Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting on Wednesday in New Delhi to review the border situation in Kashmir, the repeated incidents of ceasefire violation by Pakistan and the security arrangements in the Valley. The Prime Minister's meet comes at a time when the situation in the Valley is crumbling each day. Cross-border shelling, civilian lives lost, and the air of general unrest and fear has crippled normal life in the Valley.
However, amid the disturbing developments reported day and night from the restive state, there is another lesser-known facet that reeks of well-coordinated attempts to jeopardise peace and well-being in Kashmir in the long-term. Twenty six schools have been torched down in Kashmir — at least one school damaged in all 10 districts of the region — in separate cases of arson in the Valley. The incidents took place over the span of the past three months of unrest, however there was a gradual increase in the frequency of such incidents, so much that in October end, one school was burnt each day in the Valley, as reported by Sameer Yasir for Firstpost.
Political mudslinging between separatist leaders and state government over the crimes were officially attributed to "unknown miscreants". While the Hurriyat leaders blamed the state government and Indian state for hatching a conspiracy to discredit the "freedom movement" as "violence and anarchy", the state government pointed fingers at the Hurriyat alleging it was an "escape route" for them to "keep the fire burning" in Kashmir.
The Jammu and Kashmir police has identified 35 arsonists behind the incidents and arrested 21 for the same, reported CNN News-18.
According to a report in the Deccan Herald, the DIG, J&K police said that some people involved in arson have fled to Jammu and Chandigarh, adding that the police is strengthening the security of schools across Kashmir. However, the repercussion of delay in action will be paid up by over 6,000 students whose studies are hampered in the Valley.
"This is a black spot on our face, no matter who does it," former secretary with the Board of School Education and a noted academician, Bashir Ahmad Dar, said in Srinagar. "We will have to bear its implications for years to come. Although buildings will be reconstructed once again but the idea of educational institutes as non-political and 'Sanctum Santorum' of our identity, will face challenges," reported Sameer Yasir.
The central government termed these as acts driven by the "combination of madness and perversion" and asked people of the Valley to realise that those responsible are acting at the behest of the enemy "across the border".
It is noteworthy here that most of the schools targeted were government-run and usually the only option for those who could not afford private education. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court took suo motu notice of the incident and rapped the government over its failure to prevent such incidents, directing police and civil administration to ensure their protection besides unmasking the "mysterious enemies of education" and deal with them with an "iron hand".
However, torched schools are not the only problem plaguing education in the valley. The Centre has requested the state government to close 174 schools in the border areas, in the view of cross-border firing from Pakistan's side targeting civilian locations. Schools have remained shut for almost four months now, bringing education to a standstill. A few institutions that tried to take temporary classes or tuitions, were singled out and burned to ground. Founder of Iqra Public School in Batgund, Anantnag decided to reopen school despite separatists call for strikes and decided to open a 'tuition centre' despite the raging protests over the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The school was set ablaze and burnt to ground.
Meanwhile, the state government has announced that annual board examinations will be held next month, even though the schools have remained closed since July. According to Kashmir Monitor, students have protested against the decision and are insisting that the exams are postponed. The students say that more than 50 percent of their syllabus remains uncovered as their studies suffered due to the situation in the Valley. Although the government has promised to reduce the syllabus in exams and offer more choices in the paper, the students remain distressed as some of the schools were yet to formally begin classes for some of the subjects when the unrest broke out.
"Our children have got used to sitting at home. They don’t like the idea of going back to schools because there is no luxury superior for than free time. Then there are these radical thoughts that inhabit their mind, that if you don’t agree with them, you are their enemy," a school teacher told Sameer Yasir , reflecting on the situation.
With inputs from PTI