Empty classrooms in Kashmir

Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

This is an excerpt from 120 Days: 5th August to 5th December — A Report by Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), a collective of relatives of victims of enforced and involuntary disappearances in Kashmir.

In Kashmir, according to reports, there are 11,319 government schools and 2,198 private in which 9,23,048 and 3,39,366 respectively students are enrolled. The schools in Kashmir were reopened after their summer vacations on 24th July. Soon, after its first week of opening, on 5th August the educational system was locked down, internet services were banned, telecommunications services were reduced and the entire region saw an escalation of security forces, creating a war- like situation in the valley. The highest enrollment of students is in the urban areas and these are the locales most impacted by the lockdown, thus drastically impacting the attendance in schools.

In the past as well, governmental responses to the unrest in Kashmir were marked by a projection of normalcy through two important sectors- education and tourism. Within the city of Srinagar, the state administration passed an order for the opening of 190 primary schools from August 19th and made it mandatory for all the government officials to resume working. With most private schools have remained shut in the valley till this date, attendance of students in public schools was observed in miniscule numbers in August. All schools have been ordered to reopen from October 4th 2019 but the current lockdown of the region doesn’t provide a favorable environment for teaching and learning. Private tuition centres have also been shut down since August 5.

Night raids, minor detainees, fear and psychosis:

The detention of children has been noted to be high in the valley even before 5th Aug 2019, although discussed in detail in other chapter, but important to make a mention here. Fact finding teams consisting of members of civil society in India have come out with their reports after their recent visits to the valley, and all noted the detention of children during this period. International reports by media such as the Washington Post has also noted that children have been detained under the PSA, the youngest being nine-years old.

High instances of night raids by security forces have been reported by both national and international media in Kashmir. The news has reported that during these raids, security forces pick up children. Quint reported, how with the detention of older children under PSA, younger children are afraid to go to school, and complete their curriculum. Teachers also find it hard to attend classes and fearing being picked up. Parents have resonated similar concerns around the safety and security of their children, and have decided against sending them. ‘Our children could get caught in the middle of a protest or a raid. We can’t afford to let them out of sight.’

Furthermore, the atmosphere in the valley has a negative impact on children’s mental health. According to reports, on September 19, a fifteen year old boy named Yawar Ahmad Bhat from Chadigam Village, Pulwama committed suicide by drinking poison. Yawar was detained and beaten by the security forces on 17th September, though the Army denied this allegation.

Systematic exclusion of student community:

The presence of the armed forces in public spaces becomes a hindrance to access to schools. For instance, the number of security check posts that school buses have to pass through just to provide accessibility to education. The close proximity of security camps to schools makes students victims of surveillance and sexual violence. It also goes against the UNSC measures towards the Safe School Declaration which India has still not ratified. Furthermore, there is a possible correlation between militarization and the increasing drop-out rates of girls from schools in the Kashmir Valley. Schools in Kashmir in the past were occupied by armed forces. They often became sites of interrogation, and encounters with militants. A 2018 JKCCS report states that till date, the Jammu drop outs of girl students and links with the militarization of schools in the valley.

Photo: PTI

Challenges regarding proof of age in Kashmir

Many children who are technically of “minor age” have been detained under the PSA. School registration becomes one source of verification of the date of birth of the students. In many cases of children detained under the PSA, the armed forces have argued that the age of the students as mentioned in their school birth certificate were false. One such case is of Mohammed Aftab, a fourteen year old from district Shopian. He was picked up by security forces on midnight of 9th August 2019. The family was informed on 12th August that their son was detained under the PSA and sent to Central Jail in Srinagar. The family hasn’t seen their son since then and believes like other children who were detained, that Aftab has also been sent to jail in Northern India, Varanasi. A habeas corpus petition has been filed by his family to challenge Aftab’s detention (as he is a minor), and for him to be transferred to a Juvenile Home. However, the state counsel report has challenged the authenticity of Aftab’s birth certificate as provided to his family by the school in which their son is enrolled. Senior Superintendent of Police, Sandeep Choudhary verified the state counsel’s report by pointing out a mistake committed by the school administration, who had, while giving admission to Aftab, allegedly written a ‘hypothetical figure in the date of birth.’

Quality Education in the Valley on the Decline

The unrest in the valley over the past decades has had an adverse impact on students and their ability to learn. They are often not able to attend classes, exams, conduct thorough evaluations. The bodies regulating the education system in the valley have acknowledged students’ loss of academic years during unrest in Kashmir, and the J&K Education Director has allowed students to be automatically promoted to higher classes, except for those in class 10 and 12.

Legitimacy of Schools at stake:

The examples of the government’s response to challenges regarding the age of students in Kashmir, as mentioned above in the case of Aftab Ahmad, detained unlawfully under PSA points to the fact that the security apparatus in the valley doesn’t make a distinction between a minor and an adult while adopting measures that risk violating international humanitarian law, human rights law, guaranteed to the children in conflict zones. Such cases support the concern of civil society that children are direct victims of militarization in Kashmir.

The 2018 JKCCS report asserts that children are direct victims of armed violence in J&K. The report states that the pattern of student killings in Jammu and Kashmir shows how Kashmir division accounts for 87% i.e. 162 student killings from 2003 to 2017’. Has this percentage increased from 2017-19? The number of children detained under the PSA in 2019 after Aug 5 indicates that the number of children detained has grown alarmingly over the years.

Various reports have already shown and explained how students in Kashmir are facing multiple challenges. These patterns show how the militarization of the valley over the decades has been extremely detrimental towards the security of students. Militarization of schools is directly proportional to increasing drop-out rates of students.

These actions are inconsistent with the international human rights law provisions guaranteeing the right to education. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes in article 26 the right to free compulsory elementary education. Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights defines the scope of this right more precisely, requiring that education should be available to all who have not received or completed primary education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges States to ensure, without discrimination of any kind, access to education for all children living in their territories.

E-Curfew : No communication; No Information:

According to India spend  since July 2016; schools and colleges in Kashmir were shut down for 60% on the working days. Between January 2012 to 2019,

278 internet shutdowns were recorded in Kashmir. At a time when social media has become a central part of our lives, and internet is key to this, the impact of internet blockades is felt keenly by the student community living in/out of Kashmir. Some reported on how they missed out on job opportunities and admissions to colleges and schools outside of Kashmir. Kashmiri students studying in Delhi reported struggling with their admission fees and monthly rent since the abrogation of Article 370, since their parents were not able to send them the money. Students studying outside of Kashmir experienced anxiety about the safety of their family back home in the valley, since all means of communication were blocked from 5th August, 2019.

This kind of exclusion was done systematically at two levels, first by keeping the population un-informed and secondly by excluding them from any kind of public participation to make use of these opportunities. Many students missed the opportunity to study in university outside the region. The ground reality of students from the valley reveals how the conflict had produced hindrance to access education and employment opportunity outside J&K. Post-Pulwama attack 2019, Kashmiri students studying in different parts of India reported harassment and expulsion from their colleges and universities. The consequences of any kind of unrest in the valley are experienced harshly by the children in or from Kashmir.

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