SRINAGAR, India – Community schools have become an alternative to formal education in Indian Kashmir, which has been surrounded by security forces for over a month after the Indian government stripped it of its semi-autonomous status.
Despite schools being officially open, students have not been turning up to their respective institutions due to the ongoing situation of uncertainty that started when New Delhi revoked the region’s special status on Aug. 5.
In the village of Newa, located some 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Srinagar, senior-year college student Nusrat finds herself surrounded by a dozen young pupils every day.
She keeps the children from her village occupied with their books for at least three hours a day at her own home.
“The idea came to my mind after I found my brother’s two school-going children watching TV almost all the day,” Nusrat told EFE while assigning homework to her students.
“It gives me immense pleasure to spend hours together with the children,” she added.
Nusrat has become somewhat of a beloved figure for her pupils, and older members of the community have been praising her efforts.
“She has become a role model for other college-going or university students who too have opened community schools in their localities around like one in neighboring Khanda village,” said Abdul Gaffar, a village elder.
Since the lockdown came into force, Nusrat has not been able to attend her college in Pulwama. But she is more concerned about her pupils’ education.
Shazia, a teacher, has set up a community school at her residence in the village of Dialgam in Anantnag district.
“I am less concerned about politics than the education of our future generation,” Shazia told EFE.
EFE was able to visit about a dozen state and private schools in southern Indian Kashmir and did not find anyone there.
Sharif ul Din, who works in a state school in Shopian district, opens the institution in the morning and spends hours there alone before locking it up again on the afternoon.
“Nobody comes here because of the vulnerability of the area,” Sharif said. “The circumstances are not conducive for anything.”
“We have already announced the re-opening of all educational institutions up to high school level, but the student attendance is not encouraging,” government spokesman Rohit Kansal said in a recent press briefing.
The lines of communication lines have been down in Indian Kashmir since last month, which has affected school-age children.
According to official records, almost 6,000 schools re-opened in Kashmir valley in the third week of August.
“How can we send our wards to school in such circumstances where there is immense forces deployment all around?” asked Shafiq Bhat, a parent.
Shafiq was reading a noticeboard displaying information in a school about student assignments.
“I have come along with a pen drive to get the assignment for my daughter, who is sitting idle at her home and has started forgetting earlier lessons due to continuous idleness,” he said.
Mir Waqar, a doctor and parent, said: “It may not sound good, but the students of age group 15 onwards have started showing signs of stress” due to their staying at home.
“I try to keep myself busy with reading novels,” Mahdi, a student of Oasis Educational Institute in Srinagar, told EFE. “What else can I do when there is nobody around to resolve my issues with my prescribed syllabus?”
Mir said community schools set up in southern Kashmir by educated youths are yielding positive results.