Kathua rape case: Student protests escalate across Kashmir; govt shuts down private tuition centres and schools to curb unrest

In a video that has recently gone viral on social media, a group of visibly enraged students can be seen encircling a police officer in Jammu and Kashmir, staring him down while holding up a poster that reads: 'Justice for Kathua victim'. The angry teenagers ask questions, one after another, and the officer answers some of them in a calm demeanour. To others, he replies plainly that justice will be delivered.

"Look at this poster," one student shouts in the video shot in south Kashmir's Anantnag. "Doesn't she need justice?" he asks. The unidentified officer replies calmly that the "accused have been arrested. The case is in court and justice will be done," but his answers fail to calm down the protesting students.

This was one among dozens of such encounters between protesting students and security forces seen throughout Kashmir over the weekend, forcing the state government to shut down schools and colleges in a bid to prevent the breakdown of law and order. It is very likely that many of these educational institutions will remain shut Monday onwards as well.

Kathua rape case: Student protests escalate across Kashmir; govt shuts down private tuition centres and schools to curb unrest

A spate of civilian killings this year has sparked anger among students across the Valley. Image courtesy Muzamil Matoo

A spate of civilian killings this year has sparked anger across the Valley. Protests by angry students spread to towns and villages of Kashmir early this month after four more civilians were killed in encounters. Now, they have only swelled after a public furore over lawyers trying to scuttle Jammu and Kashmir Police's Crime Branch from submitting a chargesheet against the eight accused in the Kathua rape and murder case.

On Sunday, the state's education minister, Altaf Bukhari, warned students to for continuing protests and issued an order to shut down the private tuition centres which, he said, would turn the students to go back to the classrooms – a decision that has been criticised by people on social media, and on the streets.

"We are closing them down for 90 days," Bukhari, the education minister told Firstpost, "but we will review the decisions after 15 days. We want to see what kind of effect it will have on the street protests."

The agitation on the streets is a repeat of the situation in April last year when students took to the streets in almost all parts of the Valley and the state government was forced to shut schools for weeks altogether.

Back then, the students were protesting the excessive use of force on students at a degree college in Pulwama. This time, the spark has been lit by a spate of civilian killings to which the Kathua rape has added fuel.

Earlier, the state government, conscious of the fallout of fighting students on the streets, understood the trick and closed down educational institutions. But when the students descended on streets after attending their private tuition classes, the state government shut them down as well.

Bukhari said the state government would ensure that the trial of the Kathua rape accused is fast-tracked but warned the students if the agitation continues he has no other choice but to shut down all the schools, which would take a toll on their academic calendar.

"When they attend private tuitions in the morning, they have no urge to attend the classes in schools, because it is just the repetition of their syllabus in the classrooms," Bukhari told Firstpost. "I am not against the tuition centres but if they become a part of a problem then I am left with no option but to close them," he said.

Protests by angry students spread to towns and villages of Kashmir early this month after four more civilians were killed in encounters. Image courtesy Muzamil Matoo

Protests by angry students spread to towns and villages of Kashmir early this month after four more civilians were killed in encounters. Image courtesy Muzamil Matoo

Kashmir has been hit by a wave of student protests in recent years and the state police has been forced to take a back step while dealing with them, with books in one hand and stones in the other. The students in uniform carried out protests peacefully initially but when confronted by forces they threw stones. In one instance recently, they lit up a CRPF bunker inside a stadium in Srinagar.

However, the move to shut down private tuition centres hasn't gone down well with people in the Valley, many of whom took to social media to protest the decision of the PDP-BJP government. Javaid Naikoo, a journalist wrote on Facebook: "Isn't it illogical on part of the education minister to shut down coaching centres in Kashmir, given the prevailing frequent shutdown environment. Who will convey him that students here completely rely on coaching centres for completion of syllabi throughout the academic session?"

"To deal with student protests and stone pelting incidents after any untoward incident involving civilians, the government must think up a strategy other than shutting down educational institutions and coaching centres, which is tantamount to a willful denial of education to the traumatised children of Kashmir," Naikoo wrote. "The other important aspect related to the ban is the employment of thousands of highly qualified youth not in government sector running these coaching centres."

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Apr 23, 2018 13:48:50 IST

Also See