Like parents across the world in the time of covid-19, it was with a mixture of relief and worry that Afroza Zahoor sent her children back to school earlier this month. Yet for all that Zehab (age 14) and Zaiban (ten) resembled students everywhere, clambering aboard the school bus with masked faces and hand-sanitiser tucked in pockets, their circumstances were very different.
In the Kashmir Valley, a green upland whose 7m people have borne the brunt of a decades-long struggle between India, which administers the region, and Pakistan, which claims it, schools have been closed not just for the 12 months of the pandemic, but for all but a handful of days—Ms Zahoor counts them off on her fingers—over the past two school years. On August 5th 2019 India’s national government abruptly ended Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, demoting it from a state to a territory and taking direct control of its government. In anticipation of protests, all schools and universities were sealed. Internet service was severed. Curfews, power cuts, a curb on the size of gatherings and security sweeps, including searches and roadblocks, disrupted home-schooling, too. Then, just as those strictures started relaxing last February, covid-19 struck and schools shut again.