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Kashmir: Conflict takes toll on children education

1.2M Kashmiri students returned schools after 7 months since India revoked autonomy of the region

Nusrat Sidiq   | 05.03.2020
Kashmir: Conflict takes toll on children education Schools across the Kashmir valley reopened on Feb. 24 after remaining closed for winter break and since India revoked Article 370 of its constitution on August 05 last year. ( Faisal Khan - Anadolu Agency file photo )

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir 

Besides human and economic losses, education has taken a major hit in Indian-administered Kashmir due to conflict and clampdowns.

On Feb. 24, nearly 1.2 million students attended classes for the first time in almost seven months, since India revoked limited autonomy and divided the region into two centrally administered units.

But analysts say, in an unpredictable situation, there was no guarantee of their proper functioning. Since the 2008 civilian uprising, the schools and business establishment have seen many shutdowns in the region.

Mohammad Hamza, 12, a student of standard 6 class, said he was preparing for a class test scheduled last year Aug. 5, when the government ordered the closure of all educational institutions. No reason was given.

Young Hamza least understood what was happening around as he was grappling with a mathematical problem.

“The chaos and uncertainty soon gripped me. I saw for the first time my mother was not interested in my class tests, but my safety,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Following the controversial move, authorities on two occasions announced the reopening of schools. But students stayed away amid the ongoing restrictions and concerns among parents about the children's safety.

“I thought bombs are being dropped and my school will be in rubbles. I remember helicopters and fighters zooming on skies during the whole night. I was unable to sleep,” said Hamza.

Since Aug.5 last year, Hamza said he has remained confined to his home only.

“There was no communication with the friends or with any of relatives due to commination clampdown. The only shelter was to sit in a corner of a room," he added.

For the child every single day was boring, with no activity, just staring from windows to find someone to talk with.

Last time in 2016, soon after the killing of a militant commander Burhan Wani, educational institutions remained closed for eight months as unrest plagued the region. While at that time, schools in South Kashmir bore the maximum brunt, during the last seven months, the whole Kashmir Valley has witnessed continuous closure of schools.


Resilient children

Due to uncertainty looming large, parents refused to send children to schools, even though the government tried to open schools.

“The day used, to begin with, uncertainty and end with uncertainty. Which parent in the world would send children to school in such a situation?” asked Shaheena Akhter, a mother.

Though the children in the region are caught in conflict and uncertain situation, they have excelled in board examinations. Last board examinations saw 70% of children qualifying with good grades.

“Our children are resilient now, though no doubt the education loss cannot be compensated.,” said Khurram an activist and director Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a group documenting human rights abuses.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Mohammad Younis Malik, director of school education said it was satisfying to see children back in schools.

"We want to secure the future of children. We cannot afford more loss to their education," he said.

To compensate for the loss, the number of academic days has been increased from 180 to 200 for primary and 210 days for middle classes for the year 2020.

For now, Hamza is back to school, studying and playing with his friends. But in current times ravaged with uncertainty and marked by clampdowns, nobody knows how long the optimism lasts.


Disputed Region

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965 and 1971 -- two of them over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.

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