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With schools still shut, many Srinagar kids huddle indoors. Others set up roadblocks

Covai Post Network

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Schools in the Valley were supposed to open on July 26 after an extended summer break. But most are still shut because of the unrest.

Rayan Naqash

Three children sitting by a fence near Kral Khud Police Station in Srinagar sprang to their feet as a posse of Central Reserve Police Force personnel came their way during a routine patrol one recent day.

“Hamla ha karov ,” one of them exclaimed. Let’s attack them. The other two burst into giggles. They were all wearing soiled pyjamas and T-shirts, and brandished wooden staffs they’d grabbed from under the tarpaulin of a nearby shop.

As the patrol moved on, the three shouted a few slogans. Revelling in their freedom outside school, they yelled at shopkeepers and passing motorists before disappearing into the by-lanes.

Schools closed

These children are among the thousands whose schools are yet to reopen after the summer break due to the unrest in the Kashmir Valley after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter last month.

The schools had closed on July 1 for the summer vacations and were scheduled to open on July 18. However, in view of the widespread demonstrations, the Directorate of School Education issued a circular extending the summer vacations till July 26. Five days after that, though, several schools are yet to reopen.

According to government figures, there are about 11,760 government-run schools in Kashmir, which enrol more than nine lakh students, and 2,610 private schools that enrol more than five lakh students.

Students, parents concerned

Not everyone is happy about the enforced time off. Though Class 9 student Muheet Qazi goes for tuitions in his Srinagar neighbourhood in the morning, he was concerned about not being able to attend school. “Tuitions don’t cover everything, especially practical works,” he said. “And if I miss a class, I lag behind the others.”

His father, Shabir Qazi, was worried for same reason. “Tuitions only supplement the studies,” he said. “Unless schools open kids won’t progress in their studies.”

Running wild

With schools closed, the internet shut off and movement difficult, children are spending their time indoors. In areas where the restrictions aren’t so tight, they play in the streets or in playgrounds. Some of them have ended up patrolling the streets.

At many spots along the main roads and intersections in South Kashmir and Srinagar, groups of young boys have set up roadblocks. Motorists are questioned if they stop, and stones are hurled at them if they don’t.

In the first week of the unrest, dozens of minors, along with some older boys, formed a mob near the bypass in Bemina in Srinagar.

Similarly, last week, according to a resident, bands of young boys made the rounds of Hawal area in the city, “yelling and throwing rocks at houses where lights were switched on during a blackout call”.

On Thursday evening, a Srinagar businessman was attacked when he was driving past Qamarwari in the city. Another person accompanying him said: “Most of the people who threw stones and chased us were young kids.”

Education hit

Brought up in a restrictive environment, Kashmir’s children have been influenced by violence and its imagery around them.

Photographs and videos of children posing with toy weapons are often circulated on social media in the Valley. In one video, a small group of children is seen shouting slogans.

An assistant professor at a government college in South Kashmir, who did not wish to be identified, said that children who did not want to go to school were the ones joining mobs since the presence of those mobs kept the schools shut. “Kids less than 16 years of age don’t want to go to school so they are participating in mobs,” he said. “The government should announce dates for midterm exams. Maybe then the students will start attending classes.”

Shahnawaz Bukhari, additional private secretary to the Minister for Education, told Scroll.in that while schools in most rural areas have reopened, the closure of schools in urban and suburban areas was a “situational requirement”.

“Once the vacation period has ended, it automatically means schools must be reopened,” he said.

However, Bukhari added that district commissioners in some places had been given the responsibility of deciding when schools in their areas should reopen.

Education in the Valley was hit due to unrest first during the early 1990s, and more recently in 2008 and 2010. Each time schools and colleges were shut for months.

In 2010, when the schools were closed for a considerable period due to unrest, students got a breather after the government decided that they wouldn’t be tested on half the curriculum in their final examinations.

Both Kashmir University and the Central University of Kashmir are also closed.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own

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