In besieged Kashmir, where educational institutes haven't opened their doors for over a month now, youth have voluntarily started teaching classes called 'curfew schools' in various areas. Children are asked to attend these alternative schools for all subjects at various community locations like mosques, parks and private houses.
The move was taken voluntarily in wake of the ongoing uprising, as several people had been criticising closure of schools — even claiming that children are taking part in demonstrations or installing barricades because their schools are shut.
The Valley has been under curfew since 8 July, when the popular militant commander Burhan Wani was shot dead in South Kashmir. His death led to mass uprising — people coming out on to streets for anti-India and pro-freedom demonstrations and resorting to stone throwing. The government forces have killed 58 civilians, injured at least 6,000, with many sustaining wounds or losing their vision because of seemingly 'harmless' pellet guns. The crisis has been discussed even in Parliament but there seems no breakthrough in calming the angry population that seeks a political resolution of Kashmir.
But the same angry youth have also taken this initiative of providing education to children of all age groups, without any personal interests. At one such curfew school in Srinagar’s Hasanabad area, 16-year-old Sahil Sofi walks 5 km every day to attend the classes. Sofi is sitting with a group of children, boys and girls, around a young management professional, who teaches English.
Around 200 students from class 6-10 are taught voluntarily from 8 am to 1 pm by 25 local youth, at three different locations in Hasanabad. Sixteen-year-old Zainab was at her home in Baramulla – 60 kilometers from Srinagar, when her relatives informed her about teaching classes. She shifted to her relatives’ place nearby and joined the classes.
One such volunteer is Khalid Abbas, 34, who teaches Science and English. “It took time to channelise these classes,” said Abbas. “It is not only needed right now but other than this also we need such initiatives. Some students can’t afford private tuition. We are doing this now on large scale.”
Such classes have come up in various areas of Kashmir. In South Kashmir, which is the epicenter of the uprising, Mirwaiz Qazi Yasir, the chairman of pro-freedom group Jammu Kashmir Ummat i Islami had asked youth to take the initiative in opening (more) curfew schools. Following this, several such schools have opened up where youth are teaching children. “We have 100 students attending the classes here and there are many in other areas too. People are sending their children. The parents are asking us to extend the timing,” said one of the teachers at Qazi Mohalla Anantnag School.
At the school in Qazi Mohalla, children are offered lectures according to their school curriculum and also in drawing, sketching and games. The psychological impact of the anti-India protests has been grave on children, who have witnessed the violence by government forces. While in the last few weeks, several images have been circulating showing a group of children posing with hand-made wooden guns, pictures of children with books are also being shared.
The state education minister Naeem Akhtar had been saying that the schools should be reopened. Students’ parents ridiculed the statement, for the whole Valley is under curfew imposed by the government. A few days ago, the directorate of education department’s Facebook page posted a message to students. “Without you, our days are lifeless,” read the post. “Children, when are you coming back to school? It has been a long time since the last Morning Prayer, since the last afternoon huddle. Come back, before we forget the art of teaching and you forget the joy of learning, come back to salvage the old friendships. We miss you.”
Users criticised the post, for school-going children have been among those killed and maimed. An official of the department says that someone posted the message in good faith. In any case, the curfew schools have come to the rescue in the absence of regular schools. Even the director of School Education Kashmir Shah Faesal says teaching children in neighbourhoods is an appreciable initiative by youth. “Anything that helps the education of children should be appreciated,” he said.
However, the anger against government for killings and attacks on civilians has caused more demonstrations. Children are part of such demonstrations but some have also found youth-driven teaching classes as their daily activity. “If we talk to any student right now they only talk about slogans and stone throwing,” said Abbas. Such sentiments have increased among young children since the uprising began a month ago, irrespective of their dreams about future.