By Hakim Mohammad Ilyas

The Kashmir conflict and distorted Education

March 16, 2019

Education plays a positive role in peace promotion and heals the wounds of war, solve youth unemployment, deliver decentralization and democracy, build peace and promote economic/social development. Unfortunately since last 30 years of conflict in Kashmir, The education sector has been badly hit. Unrest and violence has affected young minds the most, the biggest casualty thus far has been academia, educational infrastructure and it has suffered sabotage in many ways.

 Blasts, encounters, curfews, hartals (strikes) has disrupted life on an almost daily basis and it has declined the educational standards at large. The exposure to violence and armed conflict reduces the quantity of education and has pushed many students into depression.

Due to the closure of schools/colleges, now and then, the academic session got badly hit to the extent that it caused irreversible loss of study and tuitions to the students. Usually, not more than 50 percent of the total curriculum is covered.

 Every year approximately 50 thousand students qualify 12th class examination in Kashmir valley and accordingly they used to get admission in different universities/colleges in various courses.  The present Educational infrastructure consists of 1 central and 4 state universities including one agriculture and 1 cluster university and around 150 associated colleges.  Appox. 14% students opt for engineering /technology course and 12% students opt for para/medical professional courses.

 Reference; AISHE-2017 MHRD (All India Survey on Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development). It is pertinent to mention here, there is only one private engineering college with 180 seating capacity and 2 Government medical colleges with 150, 100 seating capacity each. Since 2003, Kashmir is without a government engineering college after Regional Engineering College was converted into National Institute of Technology (NIT) whose seats get  filled at all India level.

 Besides there are many professional colleges indicated in AISHE (All India Survey on Higher Education 2017) mostly operating in rented buildings or does not have required infrastructure/ machinery equipment. In order to overcome the dearth of educational infrastructure, State government needs to pay special attention towards its development.

 They should encourage the emergence of private colleges and universities of excellence thereby augmenting the educational eco-system. Reportedly there are 100s of files pending since years for the establishment of new private colleges for want of government clearance. Nevertheless lack of educational infrastructure, the candidates who opt for engineering/technology, medical and allied courses etc have no other option to move out of valley. Approximately 13 thousand students move every year in different states of India in order to get admission in various professional courses.

This scenario changed after 14 February 2019, when a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber in the Pulwama district of Kashmir. The attack resulted in the deaths of 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). In the back drop of this attack, Majority of students studying outside state, including girls, have been humiliated, intimidated and threatened.

 There were cases of beatings and physical harm too. At places, colleges have been forced to expel the Kashmiri students and police has been pressurised to register cases against them on fictitious charges. Students were also given ultimatum to leave the colleges/universities by the angry mobsters who are taking law in their hands.

 Despite Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India directed all the states to ensure security of Kashmiris students, the members of (VHP) Vishiv Hindu Pereshad and Bajrang Dal succeeded to extrude most of students thus becoming self-styled lawmakers and prosecutioners. A sizeable number of students have cancelled their admissions or are not agreeing to go back for studies.

 It has been observed most of the students belonging from average middle class families and have taken education loans which is of no avail now. The move has pressurised them to leave studies mid-way as safeguarding the life takes precedence over education.  

The forced expulsion of thousands of Kashmiri students from outside colleges will be the biggest challenge before the society. Also challenge for upcoming aspirants to which there seems to be no way forward as alternative. In such sensitive scenario there is every likelihood that kashmiri students can once again become hostage. All sections of society must sit together and should try to find solutions. Religious and community leaders across country have a role to play wherein they can counsel the majority to respect for human rights and the acceptance of responsibility. Kashmiri students also need to learn skills of negotiation, avoid discussions, critical thinking that will enable them to complete education without indulging in violence. 

Although United Nations organization (UNO) and World community has failed to resolve century old Kashmir conflict. But a small favour can be expected from them on humanitarian grounds by reserving professional education seats in medicine, engineering and other courses in their colleges and universities on scholarship for distressed Kashmiri students. This will not only boost the morale of helpless students in particular but will be a contribution to humanity in general.

 At this crucial juncture, there is a pivotal role of OIC (Organisation of the Islamic conference) and its associated nations to take a strong note of the matter. They should also come forward unanimously by paving way to support the students of the conflict. Unless affected students, are not protected and educated, their future is seriously imperilled. Yet the world would be a better place for all of us if every child has an education and every child had a fair chance in life.

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