Podcast; Voices from the Lockdown: One year since abrogation of Article 370, education sector worst affected

“The most badly affected sector because of the abrogation of Article 370 is the education sector.”

Greeshma Kuthar August 11, 2020 21:25:08 IST
Podcast; Voices from the Lockdown: One year since abrogation of Article 370, education sector worst affected

"It's better now. We at least have network now, we have 2G," says Quratulain Rehbar, a Kashmiri journalist on how things have become marginally better as compared to the total communication clampdown last year, following the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status. The reasons cited by the government for abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A included facilitating development of the state.

This series will attempt to revisit where things stand a year from 'Voices from the Lockdown'. While the initial podcast was created to facilitate a smooth flow of information from the state under lockdown, episodes to come will attempt to reevaluate things as they stand today.

Through the lives of the people in the thick of it all, each episode will explore the different facets of a life lived in constant lockdown, and the impact it has on the community.

In today's episode, punctuated with opinions from students and teachers, Kashmiri journalist Quratulain Rehbar helps us understand the impact the past year has had on education in Kashmir.

Full script of the episode:

“The most badly affected sector because of the abrogation of Article 370 is the education sector.”

Hi I am Greeshma Kuthar and this is Voices from the Lockdown, a Firstpost podcast.

It has been a year since we saw the revocation of special status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The reasons that the Indian government presented for the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A was in their words, to facilitate development. When I started Voices from the Lockdown in 2019, the attempt was to facilitate smoother flow of information from parts of Jammu and Kashmir, especially Kashmir as it was in a perpetual state of lockdown for months together.

In the episodes to come, we will attempt to revisit where things stand one year since Jammu and Kashmir was stripped off its statehood.

We will try and understand the situation on the ground, both in terms of this constant talk of development and in real terms, through the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Today I’ll be discussing how Kashmir is, one year since August 5 of 2019. Joining me to help us see how it is like in Kashmir is Kashmiri journalist Quratulain Rehbar.

It has been close to a year since we’ve started recording episodes for this podcast. When we initially started, I remember the troubles you had to go through, just to get to a phone so that you could record with me. Since then, have things changed? For the better or for the worse?

Qurat: Right now I will speak about Kashmiris under curfew and heavy restrictions on the movement of people. Post August 5, there was a complete communication blackout in Kashmir. We used to access internet from the Media Facilitation Centre which was provided by the government and the speed was too frustrating. But it eventually got a little normal in areas where 2G speed internet and phone networks were restored. This time I must say that not entirely but things are better in terms of communication like we have network, we have 2G speed internet and I must say that the speed of the internet is so frustrating. I mean, we still have low speed internet from a year to this point.

Greeshma: In his 2019 speech a year back in the Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah said and I quote, “The revocation of Article 370 helps break the monopoly that was set by the previous lawmakers of Kashmir. Industry, healthcare, and education in Kashmir was stalled due to Article 370. Removal of Article 370 will pave the way for Kashmir’s development, it is especially for the youth of Kashmir.”

One year since, are there changes in Kashmir, as Amit Shah said there would be? Has the revocation of special status to Kashmir been beneficial to Kashmir?

Qurat: When Home Minister announced abrogation of Article 370, he promised prosperity, development and peace. However, since then as the year passes, the region has descended into crises situation with economy, education institutions shut. One of the tragic part of the Kashmir story have been its students. Patients are highly discouraged to reach the hospital. Doctors and healthcare workers have been affected and internet has also made their jobs difficult. Recently, there came a report that almost 4 lakh people in Kashmir have lost their jobs. So, we can say that nothing has changed on ground.

Greeshma: Before we venture into a specific conversation where we look at education, let me playback an excerpt from an interview with Mubashir Pandit, a school teacher from Kashmir.

Mubashir: To be very honest, I would like to say that the most badly affected system because of the abrogation of Article 370 it was education sector because the students had to stay at home and they were not able to go to school. And you know the internet was also banned during that tenure and because of that we were not able to give online classes as well. To be very honest, let me speak this thing that online classes are not relevant as to the environment in our classrooms. Being a teacher, I miss my classroom, that environment at school. We can give moral classes and lessons to students. These things are not possible on online classes so it was very very badly affected sector. Let me tell you we cannot recover that loss. We teachers also suffered a lot because firstly our health because we had to prepare and deliver our lectures online and that affected our health and mental health as well. Most of the teachers who were working in the private sector have lost their jobs. And we teachers, we haven't received our salaries since August 2019. Schools are not getting their fees because the parents are denying to pay the fee because they are saying that our wards are not coming to school and so they are not willing to pay the fee. The management of the school are not willing to pay our salaries. It was Eid and without salaries we have suffered a lot as well. We are educated ones, we are surviving somehow but because of abrogation of these articles and because of this corona, we have lost everything. We have lost hope. To be very honest, many are thinking of suicide as well.

Greeshma: Qurat, you’ve spoken to students and teachers in Kashmir. Do you want to elaborate on why Mubashir said the worst affected due to the uncertainty in the valley has been the education sector?

Qurat: Because as I already mentioned that students in Kashmir have not attended school for a year except for a week's time in February. The students in Kashmir barely have internet, it has been difficult for teachers to give online lectures as well. Students feel a kind of loss and despair. They have not attended school and other curriculum activities which doctors say are very important for students for their mental health, for their peace. And if we talk about teachers, they have not received their salaries for months. We can say that students somehow managed to give their online exams but most of the teachers and students they have called it a formality. Valley has around 700 private schools with around 6,50,000 students enrolled in them. The clampdown on education kind of destructed their livelihood. Teachers like them and also other staff. It indicates that how education has been affected in Kashmir.

Greeshma: There have been virtually no classes, though the Indian government has claimed that schools and colleges have been functioning. Additionally there has been no internet or very limited internet connectivity, even if the students were to study online or take online classes. How have these difficulties affected students at large Qurat?

Qurat: It is not just that online classes are not happening properly. According to various reports, almost 12 lakh students in Kashmir are staying in their homes. This means the routine of students has completely changed. There are no extra curricular activities. Also, what's most important to schooling is student-teacher physical interaction or communication between them, which is missing now. Sometimes a student is unable to share his things with family but to their teacher, we can say that the extended lockdown has put a halt on these things. They cannot grow in a confined atmosphere because that’s not normal for their growth. Planning ahead for a career is also not possible without this interaction. Students have told me that it is difficult for them to seek guidance from teachers or advice about their future. I mean the physical counselling is also missing for a year.

That is as far as school students are concerned. The difficulties of college students who are in Kashmir now and have colleges in various parts of India, they are facing problems from college administrations. A student I interviewed from Bangalore told me that how difficult it was for him to send his HOD the proof of internet ban in Kashmir. He used to send him reports of how many times the internet has been banned in Kashmir because his HOD used to ask him about his location as he felt that the boy was lying about the internet not working. There is this problem as well when it comes to students who are studying outside, they will be misunderstood.

Before we proceed further let me play back a conversation with Zaid Kirmani, a law student from Kashmir.

Zaid: No one really thought that entire lockdown would last for as long as it did. I personally thought it would be for 10-15 days and then we will go back and finish our examination. Personally for me what the I lost was, I lost one entire year which ended up adding another year, making a five year degree became a six year degree essentially. It's a very old running joke in Kashmir university that you know a five year degree takes six or seven years because of the shutdown. Personally for me it was a huge loss of time. Honestly, all of us students were at loss because this is a professional course, this is the law. You need someone to teach you the new answers, you need someone to explain it to you. No matter how much you try to study on your own it won't happen. It would have been an entirely different thing altogether if we had internet to look up. We can clear our doubts on the internet but that was obviously not going to happen. When you live in a place like Kashmir there is an acute lack of exposure from school itself. Other people who are not in war torn territory such as Kashmir get that exposure but we don't, we don't even get internet properly.

Greeshma: This constant uncertainty that Zaid mentions is probably making it very difficult for college students to plan ahead. How are students dealing with this prospect of an uncertain future? Be it in terms of their studies or its completion, or even prospective employment.

Qurat: I had a talk with Zaid and he also said that he was uncertain about his future because he cannot think of his future in Kashmir as every year there is some kind of unjust. So, he has to look for the opportunities outside. Almost every student in Kashmir apply for scholarship and fellowship outside because they feel that they cannot do anything in Kashmir. They cannot do anything good for them because if they go to private sector, there are lack of jobs. As government claimed that we will provide jobs and they had claimed in the parliament after abrogation of the article that they will provide jobs but If we see today people have infact left their jobs. Students are also quite traumatised about what we will do for our future, we now have more competition. They are in despair, they don't know what to do. Now they are just living with it.

Thank you Qurat for speaking to us today. In the next episode, we’ll look at what has happened to the economy and employment through more interviews with the people of Kashmir.

Before we wrap us, let us listen to Saliq Parvaiz talk about how students in Kashmir have been preparing themselves to take on the impediments caused by the revocation of Article 370. Saliq is a student from the Central University of Kashmir.

Saliq Parvaiz: Firstly I am a DRF scholar right now in Central university of Kashmir. I was supposed to get the admission in August 2019. But that was delayed and started in December 2019. Since I am a DRF scholar, I am also supposed to get a stipend every month. Rather than getting my stipend from August 2019, I got it from March 2020. So there is a delay. Stipend is very important for a working scholar as most of us support our families too. Second thing is that as a researcher you have to go through a lot of literature and most of it we have to do online because the university was closed, there were constant strikes and curfews and the internet is also not working properly. So, there is this new thing we are trying to do is, we are preparing and searching for the study material as we keep it in our minds that we may not have internet today or tomorrow even if it's 2G. Internet can be snapped at any time because either a encounter or a strike, anything can happen. It is the anniversary today of Article 370. Actually most of us were shocked that the internet is still working because that's what we expect now. That's how we go about our studies, we have planned it in such a way that we have included information blockage and communication gaps into our study schedule.

That is all from this episode of Voices from the Lockdown. For previous episodes, visit the Firstpost channel on audioboom.com.

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