'What About Us?': Kin of Victims Decry Move to Rename J&K Schools After Security Personnel

In J&K, security agencies have been blamed for gross human rights abuses. The families of those killed by personnel in fake encounters have questioned the renaming move.

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration is naming more than six dozen schools in the Union Territory after security forces personnel who have died in the line of duty, a move which is likely to cause unease among victims of official abuses.

In an order, the administration has asked deputy commissioners of all the 10 districts in Jammu region to prepare a list of government-run schools that could be named after security personnel who were killed in action.

The order comes barely a week after J&K’s chief secretary, Dr A.K. Mehta, asked officials of the Union territory’s administration “to identify 75 roads and schools” which could be renamed after “civilians” as “a mark of respect and appreciation” for their “distinguished contributions to public welfare.”

There was no mention of security personnel in the directives issued by the chief secretary in the official statement issued by J&K’s directorate of information and public relations on July 30.

“Chief Secretary impressed upon district administrations to acknowledge contributions of citizens towards nation-building and enlist individuals with exemplary achievements in this regard,” the statement said.

The latest directive by the Jammu administration titled “Naming of Govt Schools after Martyrs” asks the deputy commissioners to identify schools in their areas as well as personalities from J&K Police, Army and CRPF after whom these schools could be renamed.

Also read: Of Militants and Martyrs: The Two Conflicting Narratives in Kashmir

“The committee can include representatives of the Indian Army, the SSP, ADC, DPO, or AC Panchayat,” said the order, asking the deputy commissioners to send the list to Divisional Commissioner, Jammu’s office by or before August 5.

The district administrations of Jammu, Kathua, Doda, Poonch, Ramban, Samba, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Udhampur and Reasi were asked to submit the list “after due verification”.

A senior officer in the administration said the lists have been submitted by most districts and the process for renaming the schools is likely to be initiated by the end of Independence Day celebrations.

“This is a unique opportunity to inculcate a sense of pride among people and to remember the sacrifices made by our martyrs for protecting the integrity of the country,” the officer, who did not want to be named, said.

In the past, the use of ‘martyr’ to describe the security personnel who are killed in action, has often triggered heated debates.

In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the Dictionary of Martyrs of India’s Freedom Struggle, which describes martyrs as those security personnel who are killed in the line of duty.

According to officials, the decision of J&K admin to rename schools is part of ‘Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav”, a flagship campaign of the Union culture ministry to commemorate 75 years of India’s Independence.

The national campaign, which was launched by the prime minister earlier this year, “will focus on citizen participation, to be converted into a ‘Janandolan’ where small changes, at the local level, will add up to significant national gains”.

According to official website of the culture ministry, the campaign is intended to showcase through online debates, lecture sessions, cultural programmes and other events, India’s rich history and the progress since 1947.

In July, the Punjab government announced it was renaming 17 government schools after freedom fighters who participated in India’s independence movement. But the move was unrelated to the official celebrations commemorating 75 years of India’s independence.

Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps the only administration which has seized the occasion to name schools after personnel of various security agencies, which have been blamed for gross human rights abuses.

Also read: Shopian ‘Encounter’: Army Says it Exceeded AFSPA Powers, Confirms 3 Killed Were From Rajouri

According to independent rights groups, more than 8,000 people have become victims of enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir. A majority of these cases have been blamed on various security agencies.

Several official probes have indicted personnel from J&K Police, Indian Army, CRPF and other troopers for involvement in rights abuses, including for committing murders of civilians who were passed off as “terrorists” by them in order to secure quick promotions and cash rewards.

“They (security personnel) are killed while performing their duties but what about those innocents who become their victims,” said Rashid Khan, whose father, Jumma Khan, was among five civilians killed in the 2000 Pathribal fake encounter.

In 2006, the CBI had indicted five Indian army personnel, including a brigadier, a lieutenant colonel and two majors for their involvement in the killing of five civilians from south Kashmir during the Pathribal fake encounter.

The same Army unit was accused of killing 36 Sikhs in Chitisinghpora village, days before the Pathribal fake encounter. While indicting the Army men, the CBI charge-sheet mentioned that the unit was under “tremendous psychological pressure” to deliver after the Sikh massacre.

“The families of those killed by the Army in fake encounters, like my father, are still waiting for justice. The government should name some of the schools after them as well,” Khan, a resident of Brari Angan village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, said.

Speaking with reporters in Srinagar, Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Lone on Saturday termed the decision of J&K admin to rename schools as “old wine in a new bottle.”

“This is old wine in a new bottle and we don’t subscribe to that. We are not in favour of these decisions,” Lone said, referring also to the recent termination of employees by the J&K administration under Article 311.

Arun Gupta, BJP’s J&K spokesperson welcomed the decision to rename schools, saying the move is a “symbolic representation of a culture for next generation.”

“I think this is how any country worth their gratitude should be. The next generation needs to feel pride in their saviours,” Gupta said.