Outside the headmaster’s room in a school in Rafiabad, Baramulla, is a signboard that reads: ‘Headmaster cum Chowkidar’. As protests go, this is an unusual one, even for Kashmir.
Ever since the protests over the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani began in Kashmir, at least 29 schools have mysteriously gone up in flames. Now, teachers across the Valley have been asked to take turns to guard their schools — even at night — to prevent such incidents. Teachers say orders to that effect have gone out to schools across the Valley, holding them responsible for the security of their schools.
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One such directive — issued by Arif Iqbal Malik, the Chief Education Officer (CEO) of Srinagar — says the “mandatory instruction with regard to protection of schools” is “in response to a high-level meeting chaired by Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Khan”.
While Baseer Khan refused to comment, the minutes of the November 1 meeting said he had asked the education department to “prepare a roster in tells teachers to guard their schools consultation with concerned Deputy Commissioners for deployment of their officials for round-the-clock duty and watch & ward for vigil”.
The order, issued by Malik on November 1 to 1,015 schools that report to him, asks them to ensure that “chowkidars are present round-the-clock and in case no chowkidar is available, the job of the same must be assigned to other staff member of the institution to ensure 100% security of the schools”.
“It was decided in that meeting that schools where there are no class IV employees (orderlies), the teachers should look after the schools,” Malik told The Indian Express.
Less than 20 per cent of schools in Kashmir have chowkidars for the night. Teachers, such as the headmaster of the Rafiabad school, are upset that they have been asked to stand in for chowkidars. They say women teachers haven’t been exempted either and that they have been told to send their male relatives for the night-shift if they can’t come themselves.
“I have been going to school for night duty for three nights now,” said Farooq Ahmad, a teacher at the Government Middle School in Dangiwacha. “Our ZEO (Zonal Education Officer) has issued us a weekly roster. It has the names of teachers and their place of duty for the night. I am on night duty this entire week.”
J&K Education minister Naeem Akhtar said the Education Department had not issued any such order, though “it might have been done at the local level”. “I have enquired with the Director (Education). He says no such order has been issued. This might have been done at the local level by some (officers),” Akhtar told The Indian Express. “I have full faith in the teaching community. They have done a wonderful job of bringing reforms in education. But, I believe, this is a tough crisis and they would have to lead by building an opinion and rising against such an assault.”
Teachers, however, said they were being compelled to go to schools for the night-shift . “We have been issued a weekly roster and asked to come to school for the night duty,” said a woman teacher from Qalamabad in Handwara. “How can any sensible government even think of asking women teachers to do night duty and that too in such circumstances?”
“Who will take responsibility of our safety and security? Who will be responsible if something happens to a woman teacher? Does the education minister know that his schools are without doors and windows,” said a woman teacher posted in a high school in north Kashmir’s Sopore town.
Srinagar CEO Malik, however, denied having told schools to engage women teachers for the job.
When asked why policemen couldn’t be deployed for the security of schools, a senior police officer cited lack of manpower. “We have around 13,000 schools in Kashmir and it is not possible for us to secure every school,” said the police officer. “We recently had to wind up police posts with less than six policemen after militants snatched their weapons. In such circumstances, how can we post one of two policemen at each school?”
If policemen can’t guard schools with guns, how do they expect us to do it without guns?,” asked a teacher posted in Kupwara.