After ‘Operation Calm down’ in South Kashmir, Army is now focussing on another operation — ‘School Chalo’, under which it identifies areas and provides students with free coaching and make them participate in extra-curricular activities. “We know we have to deal situation on the internal front and we are doing that with desired results. But simultaneously during my interaction with locals, I felt they were worried about the studies of their children, but at the same time anxious about their security. That is where I asked my boys to work out a plan for providing education to students,” says Major General Ashok Narula, General-Officer-in-Command of ‘Victor Force’.
The army had launched Operation ‘Calm Down’ in August-September to clear different parts of the Valley of militants and protesters using minimum force. With educational institutions remaining closed for about five months now and over 30 schools being burnt down over the past weeks, Gen Narula’s directions under the ‘School Chalo’ programme is increasingly becoming popular in the Valley.
Various formations under his command have started identifying teachers in localities and urging them to hold classes in schools or community houses to impart education to children, who have been deprived of it ever since trouble broke out on July 9 this year, a day after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter.
“Besides being an army officer, I am a father of two children. So here I approached the issue as a father and not as an Army officer and ensured that these children should hold books in their hands, rather than a stone,” Narula said. Using a local slogan ‘Chyem ne zaroorat Daulat-o-Rubab, Faqat Gochum School te Kitab (I don’t need money and fame, I need books and school)’, the army offcers and men now perform a different kind of task — to convince the parents to send their wards to make-shift dwellings to study.
Army officers cited the performance of 292 students who were studying in the Army Goodwill School at Pahalgam who were being taught by well qualified teachers. “Unhindered by the turmoil which had engulfed the state, these students have not only finished and revised their syllabus but have also participated whole-heartedly in various functions like Eid, Independence Day etc. These (activities) were also the reasons given to parents in other localities to convince them to send in their children,” said Narula.
Taking a cue from this operation, far off in Rainpora, a village located in remote South Kashmir, the troops finally managed to convince parents to send their wards to study and two local teachers to impart them education. Attired in a cardigan which read ‘Ek Tha Tiger’, Rafiq Ahmed, a local teacher, is busy teaching students from a locality near Rainpora. “I am a teacher and I am given the task by the God Almighty to impart education to my students and I am only performing my duty,” he said.
Colonel Dharmendra Yadav, who commands a unit in Anantnag, has been carrying forward the command of his GoC and is personally engaging with parents to ensure that children at least attend the community schooling. “We are trained for a situation and collapse of an education system is also a situation that needs to dealt. Army has risen to the occasion and will ensure that the children are imparted with knowledge,” Col Yadav said as he shook hands with a small child.
The army has also started “Naujawan Club” where children and youth get a chance to display their talent in sports. “The point is to keep them away from anti-social elements and I am glad that many come here to play all sorts of games or access the Internet to know about the rest of world. It is encouraging to see the enthusiasm amongst these children,” Col Yadav said in his unit at Larkhipora.
Kashmir has seen a virtual collapse of educational institution and also the burning down of at least 31 schools by miscreants in various parts of the Valley. Citing the example of Army Goodwill School at Pahalgam, Gen Narula said “for the students of the only fully residential school in the Valley which has been running classes from 6th to 12th class, Kitab ke Dushman are Kashmir ke Dushman (enemies of books are enemies of Kashmir).”
Recently, Muzzafar Wani, father of Burhan Wani, had expressed “deep pain” over the burning down of schools in the Valley and made a fervent appeal to those behind it to refrain from targeting educational institutions. “As a teacher, whenever a school is burnt down, my heart is set on fire. This is not right. Whosoever is responsible for this is doing no good to the society. A society without any education is lifeless. They do not have any identity,” Wani said and made it clear that he was making this statement as a teacher and not as any leader.