Early In the morning of September 9, a joint team of police and Army cordoned off Reban village on the outskirts of Sopore town. And before the Internet was snapped — a new precautionary measure being consistently adopted during encounters — Sopore’s additional deputy commissioner circulated a message: “All educational institutions of Sopore will remained closed.”
The biggest victim of the clash between the government and separatists has been the education of the Valley’s children. While the separatists don’t exempt schools from their shutdown calls, the government has itself shut down schools for up to 30 days, sometimes more, this summer to “prevent student protests”.
If one counts shutdowns the current academic season, then schools, especially higher secondary ones, have been open for a little more than a hundred days throughout the 11-month session so far. It is the second consecutive year that schools in the Valley have remained shut for most part of the academic session.
“I agree that schoolchildren have lost around 22 days on an average [this summer] because of this,” Jammu & Kashmir Education Minister Altaf Bukhari told The Indian Express. “But we have no other option. I am like a parent to all these children. I wouldn’t want to lose a child to a bullet”.
Bukhari said the government is working on how closure of schools can be kept to a minimum in future. “We have already deferred exams by a month so that the lost time is compensated for,” he said. “Hopefully, next year we will not have to encounter such school closures.”
The government decision to shut down schools after the killing of militant commanders is a recent trend, having started in April after students took to the streets across the Valley to protest against a police raid on Degree College in Pulwama. The current trend contrasts with the government’s decision last year, when it forced teachers to open schools during curfews and separatist-sponsored shutdowns following the killing of Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. In fact, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had questioned separatists what enjoyment there could be in azadi if schools in the Valley had to remain shut.
“If we play with the future of our children, who should be in schools and colleges… then what azadi [are you talking about]? What [is the meaning] of India and of Pakistan. I believe this will not work,” the chief minister had said in August last year. “In Islam, it is said education is the right of every Muslim man and woman. When we destroy the foundation of education. when our colleges remain closed, we will remain far behind.”
Education Minister Bukhari said the situation in 2016 had demanded that schools be opened. “Every situation has a different context. That year, the government wanted children back at school,” he said. “But this time, the security of the children is paramount”.
A decision to shut a school is taken at district level or even at subdivision level. “We close schools that are in the vicinity of the encounter site, and schools where the students have a past record of protests. This is being done for the security of students and public property,” said Khursheed Ahmad Shah, ADC of Sopore, the town that has seen the highest number of official closures since April this year. “Of course, when the school remains shut, it has an adverse impact on education,” he added. “But if a student is killed or he loses his eyesight to pellets, what is this education for?”
Shah said the decision on closing down of schools is taken by the district magistrate following inputs from the police.