Kashmir schools burning is a terrifying reality of how India views education
A diabolical infection is fast spreading through the Kashmir Valley which threatens to cripple its education system. During the past three months over 25 schools have been cosigned to flames and no one seems to know what is going on?
Not a single person or group has so far been identified, let alone brought to book for this crime. There is little moral outrage among the intellectuals anywhere in India.
Does burning of schools not deserve a candle light march or a TV debate? The silence on all sides is as eloquent as our collective concern for education in general. It simply doesn’t matter.
Our rank on the world table of “Ease of Doing Business” gets our goat, but we cannot even summon the courage to issue a strong statement or at least a warning that burning schools is an act of war.
One fails to understand why and how we tolerate the desecration of institutions that make the very foundations of the modern Indian state.
No crime can be more repugnant and devious than this act of vandalism being perpetrated on the people of Kashmir. That any civilised society must undergo such hideous spectacle of insane violence should concern all of us and in particular those in charge of civil administration.
It is extremely painful and disconcerting that the symbols of a cultured space that many refer to as paradise are being plundered with alacrity. Why schools? Most of us know the answer, but don’t speak.
Simply put, the enemies of modern education are loathe to the enlightenment of young Kashmiri minds, as they are more likely to refuse to be indoctrinated. So, lionise a delinquent school topper and use his image to offer the alternate career choice of dropping out of the school and wielding a gun!
Now that premier of Pakistan has elevated the mascot of young terrorism to the pedestal of a “martyr” at no less a stage than the United Nations General Assembly, there is glory to be gained in following the example of a sacrificial lamb.
As such, a number of personnel from the education department in Kashmir were recently dismissed from service for their involvement in activities that were inconsistent with the code of conduct. Instead of imparting education that the students deserved, they chose to indoctrinate them.
Since these schools no more serve their vested interests as abodes of propaganda and brainwashing, therefore, they must not be allowed to exist. It serves the extremists and jihadists the twin purpose of decimating any semblance of modern education and creating disorder in Kashmir.
These incidents of mayhem and arson are used by the civil-military leaders across the border as an alibi at international fora. Going by the cultural mores of Kashmiris, I would be seriously surprised that anyone among them would participate in torching of schools.
In case I am wrong, it would be another leaf that Kashmir would have turned in its cultural history. Not that burning of educational institutions as an instrument of altering Kashmir’s identity is new to her history, but I have reasons to think differently.
For many years, I wished (alas! had neither the power nor the influence) that master Khazir Mohammad of our village should have won a National Teacher Award or a Padma Award as an educator. Khazir Mohammad, himself not highly lettered, envisioned school education for our village in Anantnag district (wherefrom the latest incident of school burning has been reported).
He offered his prime land, constructed a school building and offered his own services as a school teacher. With the help of another Hindu friend, he forced villagers to send their children to the school. The legend has it that Khazir Mohammad caned the parents (fathers only) if they failed to enroll their children (mostly boys to begin with) in the village school. This must have been late ’40s and early ’50s. For years together, Khazir Mohammad kept the institution going initially as a primary school and then middle school (perhaps, without much financial gain). In the ’70s, as our turn came to attend the school, it had been elevated to a high school.
I am not sure how much money Khazir Mohammad got as the rental and his salary, but it must have been a paltry sum considering the yeomen service he performed for our village. In fact students from at least eight-ten surrounding villages attended the school.
No wonder when the first bus service started in our area to and fro Anantnag (morning and evening), the front seat was always reserved for the master sahib. Khazir Mohammad had transformed from an individual to an institution. What went wrong in the last four odd decades?
At this juncture, I am reminded of Booker T Washington, the remarkable American educationist and thinker, who not only got himself educated under extremely difficult circumstances, but later built a school for the deprived black minorities. The institution this great visionary built in 1881 in Alabama is today the Tuskejee University.
His book – Up From Slavery – is a must read for school children and anyone interested in school education. The inscription on the monument dedicated to Booker T Washington at Tuskegee University reads: “He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry.”
The vision of our own Washington, master Khazir Mohammad, benefitted us and our earlier generations, irrespective of our belief systems. Sadly, there is no legacy of Khazir Mohammad in the annals of Kashmir’s education history.
Today, his dream of modern education lays shattered; it is being condemned by an alien bigoted ideology. His institution is besieged by an antediluvian mindset of hatred and unbounded ignorance.
We badly need a visionary of Khazir Mohammad’s calibre to lead the Kashmiri youth and lift the veil of ignorance from the Vale of Kashmir. Notwithstanding the frivolous jokes of the nouveau geek on education, someone please remind us – school is the best place for children to be in.