The systematic burning down of schools in Kashmir has been among the least noticed of the violent incidents in the Valley in this year’s unrest. As reported in this paper, as many as 19 schools have been set on fire, many of them in south Kashmir. No one has claimed responsibility for these acts of arson, and the police have not arrested anyone so far. The question to ask is: Who benefits from this destruction? There might be different beneficiaries, but the overarching reason appears to be an effort to prevent the school system from being put back on the rails again. The reopening of schools would be a sign of returning normalcy. All Kashmir schools have been shut since the start of the troubles in July on the dictates of the separatists, but the recent announcement of an examination schedule for classes 10 and 12, has caused widespread resentment.
If the targeting of schools is indeed a deliberate plan to create another “lost generation” in Kashmir, it is Kashmiris who stand to lose the most. An estimated 5,000 children studied in these schools. When the schools are allowed to reopen eventually, it means that many children of all ages have no schools to go to till such time as the buildings are not repaired. That could take months, or even a year, or more. During the 1990s, when militancy was at a peak in Kashmir, there were those who quit school to take to the gun, and others who wanted to study but could not because of the situation that prevailed then, which was far worse and more ominous than today. Then too, hundreds of schools were burnt. Some students were fortunate enough to leave the Valley and study elsewhere. A vast majority, however, could not. It has taken a long time to rebuild those village schools, and the after-effects of those “gap years” are being felt to the present day by the people of Kashmir.
At a time when among the attributes of the new age Kashmiri militant are his high educational qualifications, it is ironic that schools and education should yet again become targets. The right to education is a universal human right. In conflict situations, this is among the many human rights that get trampled on but the one that gets the least importance, because the victims are underage and powerless to assert this right. For their part, the state government and the Centre must ensure that no school, even if it is empty at the moment, is used to accommodate security forces, thus making it a target of militants.