Almost a year ago, the five-month-long Kashmir Unrest had forced schools to shut down due to the constant curfews and unrest, leaving school going children high and dry. Until Kashmir’s youth joined forces.
“A revolution should not affect our children’s education because without education our revolution will lose its way,” says community correspondent Abid Salaam, as he talks about why education of the young generation is the most important aspect of Kashmir’s revolution and resistance.
Almost a year ago, Kashmir was thrown into a state of turmoil following the killing of a popular young Hizbul Mujahideen (a separatist outfit) commander, Burhan Wani, by the armed forces. The clashes between Kashmiris demanding ‘azaadi’ (freedom) and the armed forces between July and November 2016 left more than 90 dead and more than 15,000 injured in the valley. Everyday life came to a standstill between curfews and protests. Stuck in this void were the thousands of Kashmiri students who were unable to attend regular schools due to the heavy presence of paramilitary forces and the constant danger of pellet guns that forced them to remain confined in their homes.
While the majority of youth poured out on the streets to protest the perpetual state of occupancy and impunity granted to the Armed Forces, a handful of educated youth contributed to the resistance in a different way. “Opening a curfew school in my house was my contribution to Kashmir’s struggles,” says Abid who educated over 40-50 students free-of-cost from his locality in Baramullah. Abid was one of the hundreds of youth across Kashmir to have opened curfew schools to help students continue education during the unrest. While no official figures on curfew schools exist, Community Correspondents from Video Volunteers report that most of Kashmir’s districts had these schools, running free-of-cost in every locality.
In South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Aamir Hussain’s informal curfew school was educating over 300 students in different shifts every day. These schools were on for 10-12 hours a day since they were teaching children from kindergarten to higher secondary. But the youth, as well as the community, were tireless in their support towards the children. “Violence cannot be the only way to fight repression in Kashmir. We all recognise this fact and the curfew schools across Kashmir sent a message that we will try our best not to hinder our children’s progress due to the conflict,” says Shafat, voicing the thoughts of the Kashmiri youth in Anantnag.
While tutors were energised by educating young minds, they also were posed with a set of challenges. The existing education system emphasises on rote-learning with a little room for explanation and experiment, leaving a few students struggling with important concepts. The youth took up a chance to observe the current syllabus and tweak it with new teaching methods such as storytelling, hands-on experiment and games to explain complex subjects to children.
“These children will be the active citizens of Kashmir tomorrow and will participate in the political struggle. An uneducated citizen will only resort to violence as a weapon against the current situation but I am certain that education will structure our generation’s fight in more creative way on bigger platforms,” explains Abid further.
According to International Humanitarian Laws including the Geneva Convention, places of education should not be occupied by the Armed Forces. The United Nations Security Council has even encouraged all “Member States to take concrete measures to deter such use of schools by armed forces and armed groups.”. However, there have been reports of military forces occupying school premises across Kashmir.
In the current situation across the world millions of children across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America continue to suffer due to situations of conflict. For these innocent victims of conflict, education is imperative. Once again, following byelection polls, Kashmir is seeing massive demonstrations against the Indian state and armed forces since the beginning of April. A new feature of these protests are the massive participation of school and college students, particularly teenage girls. As hundreds are getting injured in the clashes and preferring to pick up stones instead of books a pall hangs over their future. But is the government listening to these young voices and working towards a solution that’ll enable them to return to their classrooms?