By Arif Khan
Education is the central pillar of change, and the quality of education imparted to citizens determines the health of a society. Due to a variety of reasons, the quality and nature of education varies to a large extent across institutions. Education, according to educationalists, should aim at developing an outlook conducive to political participation and solidarity because ‘democratic’ thinking presupposes participation and solidarity.
But there are radically different views on the nature of education. It should involve and develop autonomy and open-mindedness. Education is one of the most important building blocks of human development. It is not just a basic right, but a basis for development in other areas, comprising of health, nutrition, and the growth of institutions in a democracy.
If we extend these ideas of education to Kashmir, the very term, ‘education’ appears to be at odds with the social reality and the very meaning of education.
Education in Kashmir has been by and large in a deplorable condition, since the outbreak of the insurgency in the early 1990s. The armed conflict, and with it the rise of counterinsurgency apparatus, not only led to social disorder, but has also proved detrimental to the education system. It is repeatedly pointed out that economic development and employment opportunities in the region have not expanded, which further has affected human development index.
During the periods of turbulence (which unfortunately continues even today), schools have been shattered. Security threats, bomb blasts, strikes, arrest of common people, teachers, etc. have left education crippled in Kashmir. Years of disorder clearly portray that education in Kashmir has to face trials and tribulations.
The latest uprising was triggered in the aftermath of the killing of Commander Burhan Wani. The protests have marked a continuation of the post-Burhan Wani unrest amongst the Valley’s youth. It was assumed that school and college students stayed away from street demonstrations and protests, allowing the government to separate the “stone pelting youth” from rest of the Kashmiri youth, who wanted to live a “normal” life!
Speaking to the media, female students from the Women’s College said, “We were protesting inside the college. But when police started firing tear-gas, water canisters at the boys from S P College outside, we came out on the roads.” They further remarked, “When we neared S P College, they fired tear-gas shells at us. We didn’t have stones in our hands; we were protesting peacefully. But the policemen misbehaved with us and abused us.”
The new chain of events errupting in Kashmir over the past few months with regard to the student unrest should be a matter of utmost concern. Adapted to periodic upsurges of “anti-India sentiment” in the Valley, the tendency in Delhi has generally been to see all these agitations as similar in nature. Successive regimes in New Delhi have believed that amalgamation of political devolution of powers and economic development of the state will help create popular stakes in the peace process. However, that is gradually fading away.
The effectiveness of any such endeavours will depend on the intent and understanding of the conflict dynamics of those at the helm of affairs, along with their degree of resolve and the level of interaction between their political networks. They should join hands with the state government to come up with effective measures for peace, instead of mindlessly deploying more paramilitary forces or replacing pellets with plastic pellets.
In short, the Valley today confronts a grave situation at a time when neither Delhi nor Srinagar has adequate effective policies to deal with it. Yet the problem needs to be attended to, without any further delay as it could very well spin out of control unless effective steps are taken.
The main factors contributing to a decline in the attainment of quality education in Kashmir include destruction of infrastructure, fear of sending children to schools, incorporation of youth in armed groups, repetitive strikes/curfew, etc.
For proficiency, efficiency, and up-gradation of available amenities and apparatus in the teaching and learning process, proper functioning of school and higher education is necessary. Conflict destroys educational infrastructure, reduces spending on schools/colleges and teachers, as schools remain unattended for months. The exercise of learning interactions through visits of academicians from outside the Valley has also stopped.
Education in Kashmir was and even is the major causality as a result of armed resistance and the devastating state response to it. The main reason leading to the decrease in the working days are episodes of violence and the crumbling down of the whole system of governance. It is important for students to learn how democratic praxis functions, along with the need to organise support for a collective action.
At a time when information technology has revolutionized life across the globe, Kashmir is lagging far behind. Continuous internet bans have baffled people and created outrage amongst them. Government imposes blanket ban on social networking sites in Kashmir. Authorities should understand that internet goes beyond Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc.
Since Lok Sabha by-elections in April, an astonishing number of videos have gone viral on the internet. These videos are filled with the screams of youngsters being tortured, giving us a slice of the interaction of Kashmiris with the Indian State. Although this generation of Kashmiris has grown up witnessing unapologetic state of violence and conflict, they have overcome now the fear of loss of life in their protest against the oppressive state.
Education plays an imperative role in all societies because it allows for individual augmentation, fortification of knowledge about environment, and opportunities for socio-economic and political development. Any improvement of education system must start with the peace process, inclusion of Kashmir history and struggles, and its economic and social history. Only then steps towards holistic education with high values will have any meaning for the Kashmiri youth.
Conflict resolution and peace building through an integrated educational framework provides opportunities to reflect on our underlying beliefs, values and priorities that we choose to act upon. As J. Krishnamurti rightly remarks, “The responsibility for building a peaceful and enlightened society rests with the educator.”
Arif Khan is a research Scholar at the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, NewDelhi. His area of interest is conflict studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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