A school in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district became the latest target of unknown “arsonists” on Friday, taking the number of educational institutions to be burnt to 24 in almost four months of the ongoing unrest in Kashmir.
Mainstream parties as well as separatist leaders condemned the burning of schools but targeted each other for the state of education in the Valley during the unrest following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani on July 8.
On Friday, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti lashed out at the separatists, alleging they were not allowing schools to function as they want a new generation of uneducated youth who can pelt stones and be used as “cannon fodder”.
“A civil society delegation (led by Yashwant Sinha) went to meet them (separatists) and they opened their doors for them. The team requested them that the future of children was getting spoiled and for god’s sake help to let the schools open and the reply came in the form of burning of two schools,” Mehbooba told a gathering.
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She also alleged that the separatists wanted that the children should get hurt to keep the “pot boiling”.
Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Geelani, on the other hand, alleged that those who burn schools “do so in the vicinity of police and under their watchful eyes”. It said that these actions are carried out with a “well-planned strategy to malign the ongoing movement and paint it as violence and anarchy”.
“Those involved in such acts can never be well-wishers of the society, not to talk of the movement, and these acts are purposely used to malign the movement as authorities and the puppet regime has miserably failed after using every tool in their armoury to curb this movement,” the Hurriyat said in a statement on Friday.
Officials of the directorate of school education said 22 government middle, high and higher secondary schools have been burnt mysteriously during the unrest. Of these, nine were reduced to ashes while 13 were partially damaged in the fire.
Besides the 22 government schools, two prominent private schools have also been damaged in the fires.
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Of the 10 districts of the Valley, the maximum brunt has been borne by Kulgam district in south Kashmir, where five schools have been either partially or fully damaged in fires.
While most of the schools have been burnt in the dead of night by unknown “miscreants”, a few have caught fire allegedly after security forces fired teargas shells on protesters.
Police said they were trying to identify the “miscreants”.
“It is a matter of concern for us. We are in the process of identifying the miscreants and also putting in place some security measures like area domination to avoid such incidents,” state’s director general of police, K Rajendra Kumar, said.
He said there are thousands of schools in the Valley, so locals have to take the responsibility of protecting these institutions as well.
“The burning of schools jeopardises the careers of hundreds of students,” he said.
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In an official statement, education minister Naeem Akhtar lamented that the damage to schools is not just burning of an institution but a “colossal loss for the entire society”.
“During the last few months, Kashmir has gone through a bad phase which has given pain to everybody,” Akhtar, who is also the government spokesperson, said.
Students have not attended schools since Wani’s death in an encounter.
The government has decided to go ahead with the exams of high and higher secondary classes in November despite students not having been able to cover even 50% of their syllabi.
The government’s insistence on holding the exams has prompted protests by the students who want the tests to be conducted in March. It has said it was looking into various options, including the introduction of more choices in question papers and reduction in the syllabus for the examinations rather than postponing them to March.
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Arson is not the only issue that is plaguing education in Kashmir these days. Many schools in the state’s summer capital Srinagar have been occupied by security forces, which were brought in for law and order duties. At least seven prominent schools in Srinagar have been housing many companies of paramilitary forces.
The government has maintained that security forces would vacate these schools once the situation in the Valley improves.