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Army converts Kashmir’s schools, colleges into bunkers

 Kashmirs schools, colleges double up as bunkers for military; students forced to depend on tuitions, notes in absence of classes
Several schools and colleges are now serving as makeshift bunkers for additional forces deployed after abrogation of Article 370.
  • The government’s claims of ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir take a hit when the state of the educational institutions in Valley is reviewed.
  • Classrooms that were once populated by students are now serving as a shelter for hundreds of the paramilitary troopers, who were stationed in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August
  • An official of SP College said on the condition of anonymity that there were piles of garbage everywhere after the forces left. He said it took college staff days to clean it.

The government’s claims of ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir take a hit when the state of the educational institutions in Valley is reviewed. Classrooms that were once populated by students are now serving as a shelter for hundreds of the paramilitary troopers, who were stationed in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August.

Nabeel Wani (21), a civil engineering student of Kashmir Government Polytechnic (KGP) College in Gogji Bagh area of Srinagar, had last attended a class on 3 August – the first day of his third semester. But apart from the shutdown and restrictions, it is the presence of the seven CRPF companies in his college which has prevented Nabeel from attending the classes. Nabeel is one among 850 students of KGP College who can’t attend classes because their college is acting as a shelter for the additional troopers in the valley.

“Since the last four months, classes have halted as the college is under the occupation of seven CRPF companies. I decided to visit college in the first week of November after learning that the college is providing soft copies of study material,” rued Nabeel.

Nabeel was only allowed to enter the college premises after thorough security checks. He was asked to show identity proofs and was told to deposit all his belongings at the gate before he was allowed inside the college premises.

Another student Aatiqa Manzoor narrates her experience.

“I was scared to walk inside my own college campus as I noticed that many bunkers were built along the main road of the college. All the college buildings, including the students’ hostel were being used by the CRPF personnel. Concertina wire was spread over the length and breadth of college. Many CRPF vehicles were parked in the college ground. It seemed as if I was walking in the headquarters of the CRPF.”

She said that they were only permitted to enter the academic block of the college and the rest of the premise was forbidden for them.

Unfortunately, Nabeel and Aatiqa’s college isn’t the only educational institution occupied by paramilitary forces deployed by the Centre after the 5 August decision to abrogate Article 370 in the Valley.

Two government middle schools in Khag area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district, a higher secondary school in Maidan Pora and the Boys Higher Secondary School in Sogan have also been under the occupation of security personnel since 5 August.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an official of the girls middle school in Khag said that around 350 students are enrolled in the two schools and not a single class has been held since 5 August.

The two schools in Khag have at least 40 classrooms which are all used by the security personnel. A number of bunkers have come up on a large compound shared by the two schools, making it difficult for the school staff to enter the school.

“We have kept the staff arrival registry in one of the school teacher’s house who lives nearby. All the teachers visit his house to mark their attendance because schools have no space left for staff,” said the official.

The official added that before snowfall, the teachers conducted examination of classes 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in a nearby public park. However, he said that school has now arranged two rooms on rent and is conducting the exams there since the winter has set in.

All sections of the KGP college are out of bounds for students barring the admin block, from where study material is being distributed to students in absence of regular classes.
All sections of the KGP college are out of bounds for students barring the admin block, from where study material is being distributed to students in absence of regular classes.

Ajra Bhat, a student of Kashmir University said, “The academic year is already over in Kashmir and students are appearing in examination now. Schools and college have supplied study material to the students for exams, because for the last three months no class work had taken place in Kashmir.”

Ajra noted that the schools in Kashmir are open but no student is going to the school. “What the Home Minister said in Parliament that more than 20,000 schools are open, is true in a context that there is no class work happening. Kashmir University is open but there is no class work going on for the last four months.”

She said that the day after Amit Shah’s speech in the Parliament about normalcy has returned in the Valley, people have observed a self- imposed curfew in Kashmir as a mark of protest.

Experts say that a normal academic year in Kashmir comprises 250 days. However, this year, the students got less than 100 days of class work.

“The three months of lockdown proved to be a total loss for the students. The situation in these three months was not conducive for learning even at home. I am pursuing diploma in civil engineering and our course is based on practical work,” said Rabiya Khan, a student at Bemina Polytechnic College.

Rabiya said that her third semester classes were due in August and they would have completed the whole semester’s syllabus in these three months. But due to the lockdown, the classes never took place.

“College provided us with the study material for exams but it is not possible to study engineering at home and also we don’t have access to internet. I am attending private classes for some subjects because it is not possible to study at home,” Rabiya said.

“Private tutions are costly. For one subject we are charged Rs 3,000 to 4,000. It is very difficult for underprivileged students to manage the expenses of private classes,” she lamented.

However, she said that subjects like surveying, building constructions and construction material are practicals-based which cannot be studied even in private classes.

Housing security personnel in public spaces carries other dangers too. According to Khurram Parvez, a human rights defender in Srinagar, when civilian spaces like educational institutions are occupied by the army, the area becomes vulnerable to the attacks which can result in the casualty of civilians and destruction of educational institutions.

“Even at the LOCs, the Indian army is present in the civilian areas which are vulnerable to the casualties. The government has not relocated the civil population nor has the position of army been changed,” Khurram said.

In the international laws, specifically the Geneva Convention, it is mentioned that no combatant group can attack or carry out deployment in the areas where there is the possibility of civilian casualties, he said.

“Army’s occupation of educational institutions in Kashmir started in early 90s and it is a violation of internationally recognized right, Right to education,” human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroz said. “Education is a right of every citizen but when army occupies educational institutions, children are deprived of their rights.”

Attributing the occupation of educational spaces in Kashmir to the “massive unprecedented militarisation” in the Valley, Imroz, who heads a rights group called Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in Srinagar, said that taking over of schools and colleges by forces will have “psychological impact” on the students.

Imroz also noted that the topography of the schools or any other public property which is under the occupation of security personnel is completely changed.

This assessment is seconded by Afaan Qureshi, a student of Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. Afaan’s college in Srinagar was similarly occupied by paramilitary forces after 5 August.
However, as the situation in Kashmir eased and the government announced opening of colleges, the forces vacated his college in the last week of October. “I visited college to collect study material but I was shocked to see the condition of college. The classrooms smelled of alcohol and alcohol bottles were scattered everywhere. They had also broken down switches and lamps in many classrooms.”

An official of SP College, on the condition of anonymity said, that there were piles of garbage everywhere after the forces left. He said it took college staff days to clean it.

“Around four trucks of garbage were collected from the college. It took years of hard work to grow herbal garden in the college. The garden had been turned into a cesspool. There were some Nader species which were also destroyed,” the official said.

‘Afraid to send my kids to school’

In the last week of August, government had announced reopening of primary schools in the Valley. Later, the higher secondary schools and colleges in the Valley were also officially opened.
However, contrary to the government’s claims, none of the students turned up in schools and colleges. One of the main reasons for thin attendance at schools was the reluctant parent who did not want to send their students to the schools in view of the unprecedented situation in the Valley following 5 August.

Mohammad Shafi, father of one of student of KGP College, who was waiting for his daughter outside the college said, “I am afraid to send my daughter alone to the college due to the massive presence of security personnel. She has to collect study material for her examinations. I was not allowed to enter along with her so I am waiting here.”

He said that no parent will take the risk and send their children to the schools and other institution for the sake of education. “There is lot of uncertainty looming over the heads of the Kashmiri people. No father can dare to send his children alone to educational institutions as there is a risk of life”

Educationists in the Valley opine that owing to the situation, students in Kashmir are deprived of a “conducive environment” imperative for the education.

“Education requires a conducive environment for a healthy teaching and learning process but in Kashmir where educational institutions are under occupation of security personnel, it will lead to the destruction of education,” said Bashir Ahmad Dar, a noted educationist of the valley.

He explained that in Kashmir, the perception towards the security forces also drives the reluctance of students to attend classes.

“From decades, people have seen killings, arrests, mayhem at the hands of security forces. Therefore, our perception of security forces is not that they are for our security but to take hold of our resources,” he added.

Dar said that in 90s also, educational institutions were occupied by the security personnel who often used the furniture as fuel to light their fire.

“You cannot expect any education process happening in such environment. It will have an adverse effect on the minds of student,” Dar noted.

And when it comes to female students, the reluctance to attend schools occupied by forces is even greater. Apart from the unwanted constant male gaze in these spaces, women also apprehend eve-teasing and catcalling by the soldiers in these institutes.

“I am anxious to go to school during these days because the environment there is very scary. Bunkers and security personnel can be spotted everywhere in the school. At many times, I have seen the military men passing comments whenever I go to school,” a female staffer in government girls’ middle school in Khag rued. “It’s difficult for a woman to travel alone.”

Dar added: “Females by nature require privacy. Once you invade that privacy, females become more vulnerable to sexual violence because of their gender. In an institution where security forces and female students or staff coexists, that will prove more disastrous and should not be allowed at all.”

J&K Admin says security forces will move out soon

The Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Khan said, “The government has already removed security forces from various educational institutions.” However, he admitted that there are CRPF companies in KGP College which will be vacated from the college “soon.”

Secretary, Board of Technical Education, Mehmood Ahmad said, “We have already brought the matter into the notice of administration and the officials are trying to shift the forces to some alternative accommodation.”

Ahmad noted that class work will be started once the forces will be withdrawn from the college.

Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) DK Maan said that the “administration is on the lookout for the alternative arrangement and the companies will be shifted from the educational institution soon.”

Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Police Central Kashmir, VK Birdi said, “I cannot vouch how much time it will take to vacate paramilitary from the educational institution but the matter is under process.”

This story first appeared on FirstPost.com on Novemner 30, 2019 here.