THE building housing Middle School Saderkote in North Kashmir’s Bandipore district was set on fire late on Monday night, becoming the 19th government school in the Valley to be burnt since the protests began after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks so far. While police have registered cases in all the incidents, no arrests have been made.
The buildings of three higher secondary schools, eight high schools, seven middle and primary schools, and one Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya school have been damaged. Officials said more than 5,000 students are enrolled in these schools.
This is not the first time school buildings have been attacked in the Valley. Soon after militancy began in 1989, hundreds of schools and colleges had been set on fire by unidentified people. They were reconstructed over the years.
Kulgam district in south Kashmir tops the list with six school buildings set on fire here, housing two high schools, one higher secondary school, two middle schools and one Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya school. Three school buildings have been hit in Budgam, two in Bandipore, two in Baramulla, two in Shopian and one each in Kupwara, Anantnag, Ganderbal and Pulwama districts.
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Director, Education, Kashmir, Ajaz Ahmad told The Indian Express that he had sought details from district chief education officers and taken up the matter with police. “Seven schools have been gutted completely while 11 have suffered partial damage. We have already increased the number of chowkidars and night watchmen in big schools for security,” Ahmad said.
A senior Education Department officer tasked with investigating the incidents said these had larger implications. “If steps are not taken, the number of schools burnt could go higher. It is meant to deprive poor people of education,” he said. “The government is very concerned and has taken it up at the highest level.”
Chief Education Officer, Kulgam, Rouf Shahmiri said there appeared to be a pattern to the attacks, which began five-six weeks ago. “Police also interrogated some teachers and staff members. However, they have not been able to arrest any culprit,” Shahmiri said, pointing out that students enrolled in these schools could end up suffering for a long time till the buildings were repaired.
“Once the schools reopen, we will try to accommodate students whose classrooms have been burnt. Construction of new buildings will take time as funds will be needed for reconstruction,” he pointed out.
Mohammad Shafi, the Chief Education Officer of Bandipore, where a school was set on fire on Monday, said they were clueless about who was responsible. “Earlier too, a higher secondary school building was set on fire at Sumbal,” he said.
“It will take years to reconstruct these schools and our children will suffer,” a teacher hailing from Bugam village in Kulgam district said.
All educational institutions in Kashmir have been shut for the past three months due to the unrest and shutdown call by the separatist leadership. Recently, the J&K government went ahead and announced an exam date-sheet for students of Classes X and XII. The decision has been criticised as, apart from incomplete syllabus, hundreds of students are either detained or have suffered injuries in police action in the current violence.