Class 12 student Murtaza Gulzar was surprised when one of his school teachers arrived at his house one day and told him that the late date for submitting examination forms was coming up.
The next morning, Murtaza made the seven-kilometre trek to his school first thing in the morning. The roads were deserted. All forms of communication were out of bounds. The job could not have been made more difficult.
“I was utterly appalled,” said the arts student.
“Earlier, concerned officials used to inform us of examination dates through newspaper notifications, phone or the internet. This time, they had sent a person door to door to tell students.
“What if somebody is not informed on time? Aren’t they playing with our careers? I was told that the examination will be held on time. How will that be possible when the valley is under a clampdown, educational institutions are still closed, there is no internet, postpaid mobile services have only just begun and our syllabus is yet to be completed?”
Every year, the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Examination (JKBOSE) conducts the examinations of classes 10 and 12 during October and November. This year, students said, New Delhi’s decision regarding the reading down of Article 370 and the subsequent clampdown on movement and communication has led to education bearing a significant portion of the brunt.
The whole process of filling and submitting examination forms took place amidst the restrictions. Class 10 student Muneeb Javaid Wani went to school five times, all of them by foot, to complete the process.
“It’s as if we are living in the stone age,” said the 16 year old resident of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
School authorities say they were provided with examination forms at the concerned district education board offices, where officials tasked schools with getting them filled by students. Schools were also advised to finish the syllabus ‘as soon as possible.’
Most school authorities sent around employees to students’ houses to inform them about the examination forms.
“We fixed a particular date and sent one of our school employees on a door-to-door campaign to inform students to report to the school on the fixed date,” said the owner of a school, who wished to remain anonymous.
“Some of the students, who didn’t have private cars, walked up to school accompanied by an elder family member,” he added.
Following the government orders, many schools had been opened in order to finish the syllabus. But students could not and did not come.
Another man who ran a school said he asked teachers to come to his house and prepare notes which could be delivered to the students ahead of the examination.
‘Can’t write exams under clampdown’
Students said they were just not prepared well enough.
“Everyone in Kashmir is living under a siege and our syllabus is incomplete. Under these current circumstances, it is impossible for us to write our examinations,” said Muneeb. “You can’t focus on your books when everything around you is not normal and you have been disconnected from the rest of the world.”
Students said that the continuous internet blockade have severely worsened their chances of preparing satisfactorily for the exam. “When everything is getting digitised in the world, we are being asked to live a prehistoric life. How will we compete with the world tomorrow?” asked Muneeb.
Most students now worry about their future. “Our future is in danger,” said Faisal Yousuf, a student of Class 12 who wishes to study medicine. “The government may give us relaxations in the examinations, but we will just not be competent enough to sit in competitive examinations in the future.”
Faisal said they had not finished their syllabus yet but had no option but to spend their days idly.
“Aren’t we living in the world where people can read online, learn new things and remain in touch with others?” asked Faisal. “Our examinations are in the offing. How can you expect that we will focus on our studies under such circumstances?”
Like Faisal, students think that the government is trying to use the examinations to prove that things in the valley are normal.
When this reporter contacted the office of the Director of School Education, Kashmir (DSEK), the concerned officials said they are not authorised to reveal any information to media.
The director, Mohammad Younis Malik, did not take any of the reporter’s calls.
Meanwhile, seeing that the revenue of private schools depends entirely upon fees paid by students, school owners said they have been unable to pay the salaries of school teachers, orderlies and drivers.
“A few days ago, one of our school bus drivers came to my house. He was utterly in need of money as he was running out of essential commodities at home,” said a school owner. “I broke down when he expressed adversities that he had faced since the valley was put under clampdown.”
Meanwhile, the government has officially announced that the examinations will be held ‘on time.’