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From Jammu and Kashmir to Darjeeling, students bear brunt of strife

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-07-2017 Shaswati Das

New Delhi: The teenager studies in Class IX in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir. Nearly a year ago, while making his way back home from school, the boy was swept up in mob violence.

Hit by a pellet and unable to walk, Afroz is now taught by a village tutor at home.

“I really want to go to Delhi and study in Delhi University. But schools here are either shut or the students don’t come to school even if the school is open. So very little coursework actually happens,” the boy, whose name has been withheld to protect his identity, said on the phone from Srinagar.

He is just one of 1.4 million students who have been at the receiving end of the civil strife that has gripped the valley since the militant Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani’s killing on 8 July last year. With schools remaining shut for long spells, these students are staring at a bleak future, while their compatriots in a violence-hit district in another corner of India —Darjeeling in West Bengal —find their studies badly disrupted.

Soon after Wani’s killing, as Kashmir turned into a tinderbox, schools shut down for close to six months. As violence peaked between October and November 2016, “as many as 35 school buildings were set ablaze and 11 others were damaged in Kashmir,” minister of state for home affairs Hansraj Ahir informed the Rajya Sabha in November.

Similarly, from April to June this year, the divisional administration shut down schools and colleges in Pulwama district for close to six weeks amid frequent clashes between the Indian Army and students.

On 18 April, the government ordered the closure of all universities, colleges and higher secondary schools (HSS) in the Kashmir Valley for two days but with protests gaining momentum across the Valley, authorities extended the order for another two days.

On 25 June, one of Srinagar’s biggest schools—Delhi Public School (Srinagar)—was witness to a 17-hour gunbattle between militants and security forces, in which two militants were killed.

Union home ministry data reveals that district administrations across the Valley closed down schools during 60% of the total 2,690 incidents of stone-pelting that took place in the valley in 2016.

Senior central government officials see closure of schools and colleges as a deterrent against stone-pelting.

“Not having children come to school at all is a deterrent. If they are at home, they may find it difficult to congregate as a mob and hurl stones. While closing down schools hurts their future, things have to be dealt with very differently in a disturbed region,” said a senior central government official who did not wish to be named.

Political analysts in Kashmir said closures, in the long run, will prove to be severely detrimental for the state.

“This only makes the situation worse by adding to the frustration and the unemployment in the state. The government tries to firefight through these measures, but the youth and the thinking masses are at the receiving end,” said Gul Mohammad Wani, a political scientist at Kashmir University.

Students in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district too are reeling under the violence that has gripped the hill town since 6 June.

Ironically, it was a matter of educational concern that sparked off the protests for a separate Gorkhaland by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which gathered momentum after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee decided to make Bengali compulsory in all schools. The language of the majority in Darjeeling is Nepali.

Darjeeling has 1,743 schools with close to 100,000 students studying in them. Studies in nearly 800 of these schools have been disrupted.

“These schools are located in areas where protest has intensified over the last few weeks. We are looking into the situation and trying to ensure that no harm is done to the schools or the students—whether day scholars or full-time residents at boarding schools,” said a Union senior home ministry official on condition of anonymity.

On 21 June, a strike in Darjeeling forced 528 boarding students at the 128-year-old St Joseph’s School to remain indoors.

School authorities told the media in Darjeeling that not only are they worried about how to send the children back home, but concerned that such episodes of violence and strife will erode Darjeeling’s reputation as a destination for a good education.

Darjeeling is home to some of India’s most exclusive private schools.

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