Barely 100 metres from Hyderpora crossing on the Srinagar Airport road, the narrow lane branching into a J&K government girls’ school wears a deserted look.
The main gate of the school is open, but an eerie silence prevails in the area. More than 280 students from neighbouring localities are enrolled in this school, many of them studying in primary classes.
The uptown Parraypora locality of Srinagar, where the school is located, has remained relatively calm compared to the volatile downtown areas of old city – no protests have been reported here.
Earlier this week, the Kashmir administration announced that primary and middle schools were going to re-open after more than a fortnight of curbs, hoping that schools such as these would take the lead in restoring a semblance of normalcy in the Valley.
However, not even one student turned up at the school in the days
following the announcement.
“The staff has been coming regularly but not one student is coming to attend classes.”Abdul Samad (name changed), Member of Teaching Staff
Since the abrogation of Article 370 and division of J&K into two union territories led to heightened militarisation and official curbs on civilian movement, educational institutions – especially private schools where a majority of young Kashmiri students are enrolled – have turned into haunted spaces.
The J&K authorities have been claiming that the attendance of students is “gradually picking up” in schools that have been re-opened, but these claims fall flat in the face of facts.
At least ten schools visited by this reporter, five of them run by the government in Srinagar, have recorded zero attendance of students.
In the city centre Lal Chowk, barely a kilometre from the civil secretariat, prominent missionary schools like Burn Hall, the alma mater of former J&K CM Omar Abdullah, and Tyndale Biscoe – arguably some of the best schools in Kashmir – are closed indefinitely.
Anguished parents and distraught students often frequent the school to look out for any communication. The ongoing communication blockade has made it impossible for them to connect with school management or teachers.
“Is anyone inside? My name is Tahir. I am a student here. Hello….”
Tahir shouted in desperation, standing in front of the main gate of a missionary school in Srinagar, knocking the gate slightly.
But there is no response from other side. “If the situation remains like this, I don’t know how we are going to cope. These days even private tuitions are not available,” he said.
‘Who Will Protect the Students?’
In the aftermath of Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016, when educational institutions used to remain shut for weeks and months on end, Kashmir’s regional parties were vocal about delinking education from the ongoing political turmoil.
A consensus was beginning to emerge that the dark shadow of Kashmir’s turmoil should not be allowed to impact the education of the new generation. For the state administration, it was a win-win situation.
“When schools and colleges are open, it restores a semblance of normalcy on the roads. That even the separatists supported the idea of depoliticising education was a game changer and a step forward in Kashmir’s polarised political atmosphere.”Senior Government Official
However, the ‘achievement’ backfired when students themselves began participating in protests in 2017 and even clashed with security forces, including in Srinagar city, forcing the administration to order the closure of these institutions and impose restrictions to prevent gatherings.
Today, amid a massive deployment of police and paramilitary forces across every nook and cranny of Kashmir, students are choosing to stay home rather than risk venturing outside.
“The government believes that opening schools will bring normalcy, but who will guarantee the security of students?”Shabir Bhat, Resident of Rambagh on outskirts of Srinagar
‘Impossible to Attend Classes’
With the academic calendar entering its last leg, students across the Valley, especially those appearing in the upcoming class 10 and class 12 board exams, have been left in the lurch. As internet services continue to be indefinitely suspended, students are staring at dark times.
“It is impossible for students to attend classes because of the absence of public transport on the roads and the prevailing restrictions. My son tells me if broadband services were to be restored, it would be of great help. But even that seems like a remote possibility.”Gulzar Dar, whose son is going to appear in class 12 board exam
For parents, it is better if their children stay at home rather than venture out into an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty. Hilal Naqash, a Srinagar-based businessman, said,
“No parent will want their school-going kids to stay at home. But sending them to school entails grave risks. Soldiers have taken over all of Kashmir. If miscreants pelt stones at them, what could happen is anyone’s guess. My daughter is appearing in class 10 board exams, but I have asked her to stay home for the time being.”
With no sign of troopers returning to their barracks anytime soon, the government’s claims of “gradual return of normalcy” to Kashmir remains a distant dream, even as global attention is focussed on the situation.