As primary schools re-opened in the Valley for the first time in over a fortnight since Jammu and Kashmir was placed under an unprecedented security blanket, teachers reported to work across Kashmir as restrictions were eased Monday, but classrooms were empty with most students staying away.
And with the security lockdown continuing in most parts of the Valley, parents expressed concerns about the safety of their children. Despite the poor attendance, the administration has also decided to re-open the Valley’s middle schools starting Wednesday.
Communications and movement restrictions were announced across the state on August 4, a day before the Centre revoked the state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated J&K into two Union Territories.
On Monday, The Indian Express visited 13 schools in Srinagar – all in the city’s relatively peaceful Civil Lines area. Of these, 11 schools were locked while security guards at the two remaining schools said neither students nor the staff had arrived.
At uptown Rajbagh, the gates of Presentation Convent, the elite missionary school for girls, were open but security guards said no school buses were pressed into service as communication with drivers and parents was not possible. “A few teachers have come today,” said a security guard, adding, “But not a single student turned up.”
Aijaz Ahmad lives less than 50 meters from the school but he decided against sending his daughters. “I live next to this school. But I will not send my kids to school. The situation is tense. Will the Srinagar Deputy Commissioner ensure safety of my kids? No. The daughters of who’s who in the government study in this school but see, none of them have sent their children today,” he said.
While the gates of Presentation Convent were open, the Burn Hall School at the high security zone of Sonwar, Woodland School at Gupkar and St. Pauls’ International School in Sonwar — that also has primary classes — remained shut.
“We have more than 25 school buses but we didn’t send any of them out today. We couldn’t reach out to the drivers,” said a Burn Hall School employee. “No student has come here today.” The road leading to the main gate of the school has been barricaded with spools of concertina wire.
In the morning, Lal Chowk in Srinagar was closed for civilian movement and barely 100 meters from the iconic clock tower, the Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson Girls School were closed. A watchman at the school didn’t even open the gate. “The school is shut,” he said, peering through a peephole.
At the Government Girls High School Chatabal at Karan Nagar, a few teachers turned up in the morning. “They (teachers) waited for some time but no student came here… When students didn’t come, the teachers also left for home,” said a security guard.
The Delhi Public School at Athwajan, the first school to open after the militant Burhan Wani was killed in 2016, was also closed.
Inside the Badami Bagh military cantonment, the Kendriya Vidyalaya, located at Shivpora, was the only exception but few students turned up even here. An official at the school said that less than 100 students out of a 1,000 attended school Monday.
Director School Education Mohammad Younis Malik said during a J&K administration briefing that out of the 196 primary schools that the government had decided to re-open Monday, “30 per cent to 50 per cent attendance of staff was recorded while attendance of students remained thin.”
Malik admitted to poor attendance in schools across the Valley with at least two areas – Shopian and DH Pora – recording zero attendance in its primary schools. “Primary schools in Budgam saw an attendance of between 4 to 11 students. There was nil attendance at Shopian and no attendance at DH Pora (Kulgam),” he said.
Director Information Dr Sehrish Asgar said at the briefing that 98 per cent of employees at the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar were present. “Attendance figures in all the government office is picking up rapidly,” she said.
According to DIG Central Kashmir Range V K Virdi, “no major” incidents were reported from the Valley barring “some minor incidents at Nigeen and Safakadal areas of Srinagar city”.
Meanwhile, in Jammu, most educational institutions in five sensitive border districts reopened, too, after a fortnight with “full attendance” as authorities lifted curbs in large parts of the region, officials said. Educational institutions reopened in the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch and Chenab Valley districts of Ramban, Doda and parts of Kishtwar, reported PTI, quoting officials.