Children of Kashmir: Away From Schools, Disconnected From Friends

“At least the education system should not suffer every time the government takes some step,” said Saliq Rayees, a class XI student from Srinagar.

Srinagar: Two weeks ago, Saliq Rayees, a student of class XI from the Chanapora area of Srinagar, was able to attend private tuitions for a couple of days before the Centre ordered the shutdown in the Valley. The last time he and his friends attended their formal classes in a private high school in the city was on August 4, a day before the Centre read down Article 370, bifurcated the state into two union territories, and imposed a lockdown and complete communications blockade.

Disconnected from his friends and away from his school, Rayees said his studies had also been hindered by the communications and internet shutdown. He would often access study material available online, taking notes from videos and online tutorials on educational websites to prepare for his exams.

“The government should have thought about students like us and at least not banned broadband internet, which we would make use of to study from home,” said Rayees and added that many of his classmates would share and download such material. “We can’t do that anymore due to the complete internet shutdown.”

Rayees was unable to get in touch with his friends and classmates for more than a month due to the communications blackout. He was able to talk to some of his friends and classmates only after the landlines telephones were restored in his area about two weeks ago.

He could only contact a few of his friends – those who had a landline telephone at their homes. When he recently met some of his friends and classmates after more than a month, he said they all shared his disappointment and dejection at the prevailing situation.

“At least the education system should not suffer every time the government takes some step and there’s a shutdown observed,” he said. “Students also lag behind and are unable to compete in several competitive exams when there are frequent disturbances and internet shutdowns.”

Also read: Ground Report: Why Most Kashmiri Children Are Keeping Off School

All private and government schools were shut down on August 5 after curfew and restrictions were enforced across the Valley following the scrapping of Article 370. Along with some of his friends, Rayees attended a private tuition centre only for a few days in mid-September before the centre was also closed due to the heavy presence of CRPF personnel and some stone-pelting incidents in the area. Since then, his parents don’t allow him to leave the house for long.

Leeman Ravis, a student of class VII from the outskirts of Srinagar who studies in a private school, was disappointed when, due to the shutdown and restrictions, he couldn’t make it to his school in time last month to participate in selection trials for an under-14 cricket team. Ravis, who is passionate about cricket, said that when he was able to reach his school later, he found out that the selection process was already over.

Ravis has also missed his classes for almost two months now as all schools have remained shut. He has also not been able to attend any private tuitions since August 5 and says that he has been unable to focus on his studies at home. He doesn’t know when his final exams will be held. While he said he had heard somewhere that schools might reopen in October, he is not sure.

A Kashmiri child looks from behind a fence at a protest site after Friday prayers during restrictions after the government scrapped the special constitutional status for Kashmir, in Srinagar, August 16, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail

Similarly, Mohammad Izhaan, a student of class VIII at a reputed private school on the outskirts of Srinagar, is clueless about what is in store for students like him. He is unhappy over the inability to go to school like he used to before the lockdown.

A month after the shutdown on August 5, several private schools asked parents to collect some home assignments for their wards which could be submitted later. Izhaan got his first home assignment from his school only on September 11.

He said studying at home is not a substitute for formal classwork in school. “We have lost all these months of precious school time,” Izhaan said, disappointed. “Now only the exams are left and it’s not clear if our annual exams will even be held if the situation remains like this.”

Izhaan says he would often take help from the internet to clarify some concepts by listening to video lectures on YouTube that had been recommended by his teachers. “Now I can’t even check that on YouTube as the internet is also banned here,” he said.

“I can’t even meet my friends or talk to them over the phone since the phones are also not working,” he said and added that he was bored at home after having watched all the cartoons showing on television. He can’t even download games on his father’s mobile to kill time. He said didn’t like being at home for weeks together doing nothing.

Also read: In the Line of Fire: Psychological Trauma Faced by Children Living Along the LoC

“I’m bored of studying at home all the time. I want to go to school again,” he said. “I want to meet my friends and classmates and spend time with them.”

For the past two weeks, Adnan Ahmed, a student of class VI at a government primary school in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, has been able to go to a private tutor in his locality early in the morning. He spends the rest of the day at home. Fearing for his safety, his parents don’t let him leave the house to play with his neighbourhood friends.

Ahmed also claimed that he was bored from being restricted to his home all the time. He said he missed his friends and classmates and wanted to join school again. “I enjoy my time at school in the company of my friends,” he said while playing under the shade of a tree in an open ground next to a closed government high school in Chandgam village.

“I don’t know where my school friends are and what they’re doing,” he said. “I miss my teachers.”

Accompanying Ahmed, Danish Mustafa, a class IV student of the Noor Public School in another Pulwama village, said that his father only tells him that “halat gasen theek gasen (the situation should improve)” before he can go to the school again.

“I don’t know when that will happen,” Mustafa said, before moving on to play with a few neighbourhood kids in the open school ground that was once full of students.

*Names have been changed to protect their identities.

Majid Maqbool is a journalist and writer based in Srinagar.