Braving the harsh winter chill, 19-year-old Fozia Ali left home two hours ahead of the exam, hoping to catch an early ride to the exam centre at Kothi Bagh Girls Higher Secondary School in Srinagar city.
With public transport not plying due to the separatist-sponsored strike, it was an arduous task for thousands of young boys and girls, who are writing their board exams, that began on Monday in Kashmir amid heightened security.
According to officials, over 94 percent students appeared for the Standard 12 exam, while the Standard 10 exams will start on Tuesday in which more than 50,000 boys and girls are expected to write their papers.
“All of us (friends) decided to appear in this session. Who knows what will happen till March,” Ali, a resident of Indra Nagar locality of Srinagar, said. The Jammu and Kashmir government will conduct the board exams in two sessions, in November and March.
Following five months of civilian unrest during which at least 30 schools were set on fire, huge contingents of police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in and around 484 centres for Standard 12 exams and 545 exam centres for Class 10 students.
Over hundred thousand students are appearing in the two exams amid heightened security and night watch run by the teaching and non-teaching staff to protect schools across the valley which have been targeted by arsonists in the last five months.
At least 30 people have been arrested in these cases, according to J&K police.
Officials said 30,213 of the 31,964 students appeared for the exam held across the valley. Surprisingly, south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, which witnessed massive protests since Burhan Wani's killing, recorded one of the highest percentage of students who appeared for the exams.
Anantnag was one the worst affected districts in the ongoing unrest that has left at least 94 people dead and thousands injured. Officials said, 4,740 of the 4,926 students, appeared for the exams in the district. The percentage of students appearing for the exams was at 96.1 percent.
Another district that recorded a remarkably high attendance, is Kulgam. The district has been at the forefront of the unrest with the maximum number of civilians killed here in the last four months. Around 92.98 percent students turned up to write their paper.
The J&K government, led by Mehbooba Mufti, is facing severe criticism after the state's Education Minister, Naeem Akhtar, refused to postpone the annual board exams against the backdrop of the civilian unrest, saying: “Examinations are neither being held by me nor because of me.”
Despite Kashmir Valley going through one of the most prolonged periods of shutdown in the history of insurgency in the state, the state government announced the dates for the secondary and higher secondary exams last month. The government has, however, waived off some burden from the students by announcing 50 percent relaxation in syllabus.
“Brisk polling in examination centres,” Sofi Ahsan, a reporter wrote on his Facebook page, “Given the excitement and happiness among students outside the examination centres, it seems the past four months of Naeem Akhtar have been forgiven.”
At many exam centres in Srinagar, anxious parents accompanied their tense children. Many had carpooled to make the journey easier, while the less privileged ones, waited by the roadside, waving at the oncoming traffic, to take them to their destination.
The day, however, passed without any untoward incident, with most of the students walking out cheerfully from the examination centres. They described the question paper as “average” while others, perhaps due to lack of preparation, were seemingly stumped.
Nazish Bashir, a student of Kothi Bagh Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Srinagar, said that most of the students were not ready to sit for the exams earlier because they had neither gone to school in the last five months nor tuition centres.
“The paper was easy. I used to study at home. Sometimes I would face difficulty but I consulted my brother. Despite sitting at home for the last four months, I managed to do very well today,” Nazish told Firstpost.