Improving Education in KashmirThe conflict in Kashmir has disproportionately affected education due to a variety of national as well as domestic threats. Children, in particular, are being significantly affected, Education in Kashmir was halted far before COVID-19 affected the rest of the world. Improving education in Kashmir is essential for poverty reduction.

Political Unrest and COVID-19

In August 2019, Article 370 of the Indian constitution that applied to Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated. Repealing this article revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous ‘special status’ as a state. As a way to curb anticipated unrest in the state, the Indian government blocked internet and phone lines. This crisis along with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has put the future of education in Kashmir on shaky ground, reflective of its political landscape. Between 2019 and 2020, schools in Kashmir officially functioned for as little as 100 days.

Internet Connectivity in Kashmir

According to the latest census, 68.74% of Jammu and Kashmir’s population are literate and males are 20% more literate than females. Roughly 27.21 % of the state of Kashmir live in rural areas where access to education is a key issue, especially during COVID-19. Over time, the Indian government has facilitated low-speed internet to select areas up to the speed of 2G. The issue is that a higher speed of internet is required for classes to be facilitated via Zoom, Skype or to be watched on YouTube. Other than the children, educators, college and graduate students are faced with a continuing lag that has affected education in Kashmir. The government has whitelisted some websites and restored higher speed connectivity in some districts of the state.

Aawo Padhain

The Directorate of School Education Kashmir has set up “Aawo Padhain” (Come Lets Study). It is a portal that is filled with E-content and video-based classes for children to continue studying during the lockdown. The center is also equipped with a free Child-Line for children in need of aid and assistance. Additionally, Whatsapp has become a portal for teachers to send educational videos to students. While this initiative addresses the issue of continuing education during COVID-19, more needs to be done to address the other issues that affect education in Kashmir. Improving education in Kashmir will have benefits that are far-reaching.

Education Reform

The National Educational Policy 2020 (NEP 2020), approved by the government on July 29, 2020, was introduced to implement changes to education, with special focus on Jammu and Kashmir. The policy is based on the pillars of “access, equity, quality, affordability, accountability” and will transform India into a “vibrant knowledge hub,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, the success of such a policy depends on its implementation. Its effectiveness, or lack thereof, will be seen in due time. For successful educational transformation, Kashmir also needs well-qualified teachers, access to electricity, the internet, computers, technology and libraries. Furthermore, country-wide internet bans should not be allowed.

Kashmiri students have lived in a life of lockdown longer than the rest of the world has, with their education impacted long before COVID-19 came about. To bridge the overall gap in education in Kashmir, it is essential for the country to receive assistance to implement educational reform for improving education in Kashmir.

–  Anuja Mukherjee
Photo: Flickr

Internal Displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits
The Kashmiri Pandits have become the largest internally displaced group in India. In 1989, a militant insurgency broke out in Kashmir, a disputed region in northern India. The Kashmiri Pandits (KP), a Hindu minority population, were targeted by Muslim insurgency groups and terrorized into leaving their ancestral homes. After three decades of displacement, many Kashmiri Pandits continue to live in migrant camps with little means of livelihood or access to basic services. For more information on the internal displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits, The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Sudha G. Rajput, author of “Internal Displacement and Conflict: The Kashmiri Pandits in Comparative Perspective.”

A Protracted Problem

More than 90% of KPs became internally displaced by the conflict, and the majority of the population relocated to urban areas such as Jammu and New Delhi, India’s capital city. After initial displacement, KPs were given what was supposed to be short-term accommodation in migrant camps on the outskirts of cities. However, the majority of the population continues to live in these confined settlements.

Migrant camps were initially assembled with tents, tarps and other make-shift materials, though most transitioned to multi-story complexes in “township-like” settlements during the second decade of displacement. Although living conditions have improved, these complexes are owned by the government and allocated to families temporarily, leaving residents with little autonomy and no property rights.

Although most families have been able to transition to these new settlements, some continue to live in the initial tent-like structures or converted community halls. In these situations, Kashmiri Pandits endure crowded and unsanitary conditions with no running water or access to basic amenities.

Admitting Permanence

Dr. Rajput met with a Kashmiri Pandit family in one of the converted community centers in Delhi, where families had divided up a large hall into areas separated with curtains and cardboard boxes. “From the appearance, it seemed they had just moved yesterday,” she says, “but I came to find out this family had been living in these conditions for over 20 years.”

Dr. Rajput also notes that for many IDP populations around the world, the initial interpretation of a situation determines all future policies down the line. For KPs, the narrative of their “temporary” crisis has persisted for three decades. Most policymakers in India claim the internal displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits is still a temporary issue. “The moment you admit permanence, you have to provide permanent, sustainable policies,” explains Rajput. “If the government claims a situation is temporary, they need not provide long-term housing, education or healthcare.”

Impact on Health

The lasting trauma of displacement, as well as poor living conditions, have caused premature aging. Additionally, communities still living in overcrowded camps suffer from a large number of tuberculosis and pneumonia cases. Many Pandits continue to carry deep psychological traumas as well, and disorders like depression, insomnia, schizophrenia and phobias have become prevalent.

Displaced KPs have been cut off from their homeland and with it their cultural legacies. For many, living in exile feeds humiliation and insecurity that is heightened by the hostility of host communities. “The moment a person is displaced, all aspects of humanity change,” Dr. Rajput explains. “You are forever preoccupied with making sense of why your displacement occurred and how to fit into a new society.”

Impact on Employment and Education

The internal displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits has significantly affected their economic prosperity and employment opportunities. Families were forced to leave behind houses, shops and agricultural land, as well as their occupations and businesses. The government has allotted many KP business owners temporary shops, enabling them to regain their previous means of livelihood. However, many camp dwellers struggle to find employment and remain dependent on government-provided rations and cash relief.

Education for the Kashmiri Pandit community was also heavily disrupted by initial displacement, meaning many students lost years of their studies while living in makeshift migrant camps. However, the central government of India has provided free education to all displaced KP children by allotting at least 12 spaces for IDPs in public schools. Many parents are grateful for the level of education their children have received in large metropolitan societies like Delhi, which would not have been possible in small Kashmiri villages.

Hope for the Future

During the onset of the displacement crisis many NGOs assisted the KPs. However, as their displacement has become increasingly protracted, many have completed their humanitarian missions and moved on to other projects. As there are now limited initiatives focused solely on the displaced population, KPs have taken matters into their own hands and started various community groups.

One of the most well known is All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS), an advocacy organization campaigning for the representation of Pandits as well as the protection of their socio-cultural identities. AIKS provides economic relief, employment, educational opportunities and scholarships to KP communities. Its reach has broadened to KPs around the world, as well as those displaced in India.

Moving forward, Dr. Rajput believes the narrative of host communities towards internally displaced KPs must change. Host populations often perceive Pandit communities as threatening their livelihoods and taking away precious state resources. In reality, KPs have contributed economically to these societies by bringing new consumers and investors into Delhi and Jammu City. “We cannot change situations, but we can change our mindsets,” Rajput explains. “Changing the narrative is what will bring hope.”

– Claire Brenner
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in kashmirFor months, people in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir have struggled during a debilitating security lockdown. With phone lines cut and internet access heavily limited, the lockdown in Kashmir is the longest in recorded history. While the lockdown has heavily impacted all aspects of society, healthcare in Kashmir has taken a particularly significant hit.

The Conflict in Kashmir

Located at the intersection of some of the highest mountain ranges in the world, Kashmir is a region unlike any other. Often termed as “paradise on Earth,” the region’s picturesque landscapes and critical geopolitical location have made it a coveted jewel for powers vying in the region. For the past 80 years, India, Pakistan and China have clashed over the region, with each side claiming different swaths of the territory. With a majority-Muslim population, Kashmir has witnessed a popular resistance movement since 1989, which aims to achieve independence or unification with Pakistan.

However, in 2019, India announced a new approach toward Kashmir, implementing a set of draconian laws and procedures in the Indian-administered portion of the region. Under these laws, the territory lost its constitutional “special status.” The Indian government also reorganized its administrative divisions.

Critically, the territory is now in a crippling lockdown, including a stringent curfew, restrictions on movement and a blackout of all communications. The Indian government has arrested thousands of civilians and local politicians and shut out foreign media from the region. Indian-administered Kashmir, with a population of more than 12 million people, has struggled to deal with the effects of this clampdown.

Healthcare in Kashmir Under Lockdown

The lockdown has particularly affected healthcare in Kashmir. Less than three weeks after the start of the lockdown, pharmacies in the region began to report dire shortages of essential drugs. With stocks running low on anti-diabetics, anti-depressants and cardio-vascular medications, Kashmiris must travel miles in search of these essential medicines. Drugstores in the capital city of Srinagar have only filled half of all requested prescriptions.

Much of the problem arises from the communications blackout. With phone lines cut, stores cannot effectively communicate with dealers and medication suppliers. This makes their stocks vulnerable and the Kashmiris reliant on these medications even more so.

However, the problem with healthcare in Kashmir under lockdown exceeds medicine shortages. In 2019, the Lancet, a leading medical journal, declared that the lockdown puts patients at serious medical risk. With public transport halted and vehicles restricted, people in need of medical attention too often cannot obtain the care they need.

The lockdown has not spared mental health services in the region either. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had maintained counseling centers in Kashmir since 2001, but closed their facilities with the start of the lockdown. Given the decades of traumatic conflict that have afflicted Kashmir, residents in the region rely on these mental health services.

As the world reels from COVID-19, Kashmir has also felt its effects. In the early months of 2020, the region saw the easing of several restrictions, including access to 2G internet. However, following Kashmir’s first case of COVID-19 in March 2020, restrictions returned with full force. In the following months, newspapers operating in the region have reported a shortage of hospital beds and dwindling supplies of oxygen and ventilators. Given the already fragile state of healthcare in Kashmir, COVID-19 has only aggravated conditions in the region.

Improvements in Healthcare in Kashmir

Although healthcare conditions in Kashmir remain heavily impacted by the ongoing lockdown, local and international actors have made several improvements. One development is medical treatment and consultations through phone calls and mobile applications. The novel approach hopes to provide a degree of healthcare access to Kashmiris while adhering to the lockdown guidelines. An estimated 630,000 families are eligible for the program.

In August 2020, a year after the start of the lockdown, the Indian government laid forth 10 fields of focus for Kashmir. This included the growth of the health sector as a top priority. In the same report, officials also declared progress in implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission in Kashmir, part of a national campaign to end open defecation and improve sanitation practices. The government also claimed to have distributed 1.2 million health cards to school-aged children in the region, providing access to much-needed health services. The cards come with up-to-date vaccination records as well as required biannual checkups.

While the military lockdown continues to exact a harsh toll on the people of Kashmir and its fragile healthcare system, the steps above have helped improve access and treatment in the region. If all goes well, India’s lockdown of Kashmir may soon end. With it would come an increase in the health and welfare of the Kashmiri people.

– Shayaan Subzwari
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Water Crisis in Kashmir
Many countries around the world do not have sufficient access to clean water and two of the most deprived counties are India and Pakistan. Both countries are seeing rapid population growth, but they also lack the proper infrastructure to provide their citizens with water. There is a long history of conflict between the two neighbors, and the heavily disputed Kashmir region has added to the conflict. The water crisis in Kashmir should be the focus, however.

Background on Pakistan

Pakistan is in eastern Asia, bordering Iran, Afghanistan and India, as well as sharing a small border with China. It is the sixth most populated country with around 207 million people. The country also borders the Arabian Sea to the south. It recently ranked 140 out of 180 countries in the quality of water and sanitation on the Environmental Performance Index. Regional conflict, arid land, inefficient sanitation and water conservation resources have contributed to Pakistan’s lack of clean water. In Pakistan, about 21 million people are without clean water.

Background on India

India has the second-largest population in the world at 1.3 billion people and it lives within an area smaller than the United States. Despite many improvements to water facility access, India still lacks the adequate resources necessary to provide its large citizenry with clean water. Rapid urbanization has caused sprawling urban areas, where the people who live on the outskirts have no access to water unless they build wells.

Close to 600 million people are facing acute water shortages, and 21 cities might run out of groundwater by 2020. Both India and Pakistan commit much of their water to agriculture. India is a grain-producing country, which requires large amounts of water. India and Pakistan both have very low groundwater levels due to using it for farming.

The Indus Treaty

In the 1960s, the two neighbors agreed on a treaty to allocate the water that flows through the Kashmir region. The World Bank brokered the treaty, called the Indus Treaty, in an attempt to properly divert the water that flows into India and Pakistan throughout the disputed area.

Both sides have threatened to leave the treaty. Indus is the name of one of the longest rivers in Asia and its tributaries provide many countries with water. As the conflict over the Kashmir region has risen, the Indian government has threatened to divert one of the rivers by building dams and ultimately reducing the amount of water that flows to Pakistan.

India is also looking to build a dam in the Rari River. Since the creation of the treaty, the Rari River has been one of the main sources of water for Pakistan coming from the Kashmir region.

The Feud Over Kashmir

In 1834, the Sikh Empire annexed Kashmir, but after the war with Britain, the British gained control in 1846. Kashmir ultimately became part of Britain’s Indian colony, with the name Jammu and Kashmir.

Britain relinquished control of India in 1947, after which the Pakistani and Indian nations emerged. Pakistan controls the northern part of Kashmir, while the more southern Jammu and Kashmir are under Indian control. At the time of the British withdrawal, the ruler of Kashmir wished to stay neutral and maintain control over the region.

Kashmir has undergone long disputes. It stands at the northernmost point in India, and to this day, looks to obtain as much autonomy as it can from the Indian government. Both Indian and Pakistan lay claim to the Kashmir region and the region has been the basis of two of the wars between the neighboring countries. In fact, one of the wars was the first war between the two nuclear-armed nations.

As a way to maintain control over the region, the Indian government recently revoked the special rights afforded to the Muslim population in the Kashmir region and took many steps to diminish dissent. These steps included sending troops, enforcing a curfew, shutting down telecommunications like text messaging and internet services and arresting people the government deemed political prisoners.

Many in the region look to obtain independence or even to succeed in Pakistan since their Muslim majority sees Pakistan as a more welcome nation to be a part of. Pakistan and India have fought over the divided region to maintain control, but just recently, India looked to use the region as a weapon against its neighbor. After a suicide attack in February 2019 on Indian soldiers, which the Indian government blamed on Pakistani backed militants, relations between the countries have worsened with both sides threatening the other, and the conducting of airstrikes against Pakistan.

The Conclusion

The disputed Kashmir region will only increase in importance as both India and Pakistan face growing populations and decreasing groundwater levels. India and Pakistan are two of the most water-scarce countries in the world, so the water coming from the Indus River system is essential. The water crisis in Kashmir is affecting both countries, and both countries are working to improve access to clean water. There are also many organizations making it their mission to provide people with clean water.

UNICEF has promoted WASH programs to provide communities with education and resources on the importance of hygiene. Groups like charity: water has dedicated itself to providing clean water to countries in need, including Pakistan and India. It does this by building wells, improving sanitation to ensure clean water remains clean and other techniques to obtain and maintain clean water. With better techniques, the water crisis in Kashmir should diminish significantly. Also, the use of water as a political tool would no longer be a viable option.

– Jared Hynes
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Kashmir
Kashmir has been a flashpoint for conflict between India, Pakistan and China for the 70 years since India and Pakistan gained independence. At the time, the area was a princely state, Jammu and Kashmir, and it had to choose between India or Pakistan. The Hindu king chose India, but Pakistan contested by saying that the Muslim majority would prefer to join Pakistan. A war between India and Pakistan resulted in the Kashmir area’s split with India, Pakistan and even China controlling different parts.

The Constitution of India’s Article 370 guaranteed autonomy for Kashmir, meaning that Kashmir had its own flag, constitution and several laws that gave it independence from the rest of India. For example, during Article 370’s existence, Indian citizens of other states could not buy property in Kashmir. Now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370, Kashmir does not have its own constitution and must follow the rules and regulations of the Constitution of India.

Modi Promises a Better Economy for Kashmir

As for Kashmiri citizens, the Prime Minister promised economic growth due to the changes. Modi and his allies pointed out that Article 370 slowed economic growth, and that revoking the article would give Kashmir a chance to catch up to the growth of other Indian states. Many believe that poverty in Kashmir continues because restrictions on Indian businesses of other states hold back business potential.

For example, Kashmir’s manufacturing sector “has grown at just 32 percent – lower than national average of almost 50 percent.” Indian businesses now have the ability to buy land and create a business in the Kashmir region, which could effectively kickstart the slow economy.

Modi emphasizes that the autonomy of Kashmir resulted in “separatism, nepotism, corruption to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” Since Kashmir does not have to compete with people from outside the region, corruption flourishes and remains unchecked by competition. Poverty in Kashmir continues to exist due to the lax attitude of corrupt officials who are unaffected personally by the reach of poverty in Kashmir.

Kashmiri Fear the Rise of Poverty

However, some fear that the negative effects of revoking Article 370 might actually increase the probability of Kashmiri people facing poverty. The autonomy and exclusivity of the Kashmir region meant that every Kashmiri citizen was able to find a job and buy land as a result of there being more jobs and land than people. Now, Indians of other states can get jobs and buy land in Kashmir, potentially leaving native Kashmiri people unable to obtain valuable jobs, and therefore, closer to poverty.

As with most important decisions, there are benefits and drawbacks, and Modi’s decision to scrap Article 370 is no different. Only time will tell if the move will help or hurt the common people, but poverty in Kashmir will definitely face drastic changes as Kashmir grows through several economic upheavals.

– Anish Kelkar
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Market in KashmirKashmir is a region that lies on the border of India and Pakistan and has experienced conflict since 1947 when the Indian subcontinent became partitioned. Because neither India nor Pakistan control the region, those who live there rarely receive protection from either state. The consequences of this are devastating, particularly for women. A women’s market in Kashmir is helping empower women, though.

In Kashmir, people frequently exclude women from economic participation. Many of them have to stay home and can often only travel if a man accompanies them. Concerns about women’s safety in the workplace, coupled with the strict patriarchal attitudes common in the area make it incredibly difficult for women to find work in the private sector. Because of this, they make up less than 20 percent of Kashmir’s workforce. This lack of access to employment opportunities makes it nearly impossible for widows, divorcees and victims of domestic abuse to provide for themselves and their families.

As the conflict continues in Kashmir, more and more women are becoming widowed, leaving them alone to fend for themselves and their children without the skills or rights necessary to earn a living wage. Remarkably, a handful of women in Rawalakot, Kashmir is changing all of that. Pakistan currently controls their village, which is a country in which four of every 10 people are impoverished, and has become a beacon of light for women everywhere. Here are five facts about the women-centered market in Rawalakot, and how it has impacted the lives of women in the region.

Five Facts About Women’s Market in Kashmir

  1. The social worker, Nusrat Yousef, founded the market in 2011 after becoming widowed, as a way to empower victims of domestic violence and provide them with economic stability. This has given individuals like Sara Rasheed, who runs both a garment shop and a beauty parlor within the marketplace, opportunities she would not have had otherwise, as her family does not allow her to work in male-dominated areas.
  2. The marketplace has ties to the Pearl Rural Support Programme, a non-governmental organization that works to help people in rural areas of Pakistan realize their full potential. The organization currently serves over 48 million people.
  3. It is not only a market place; women can also learn skills to help them with career and entrepreneurial goals. The market offers classes in sewing and training for women to become beauticians, opening the door to a life of independence for women who would otherwise live their lives entirely dependent on male relatives.
  4. Playing on the fact that many women in Kashmir cannot travel to public spaces without a male guardian, the market does not permit men to enter without a female companion. Having this women-centered environment allows attendees to talk openly about the struggles that women in Kashmir face, and work together to find solutions to these problems.
  5. The market has provided women with a strong community that they have mobilized to fight against oppression. They recently stepped in when police failed to take action against a man who had cut his wife’s nose off and pressured law enforcement to take action. They have also helped women get alimony from their ex-husbands in order to support their families.

Ultimately, this market has had an amazing impact on the women who have already discovered it and has the potential to reach over 100 thousand women in the area as the market it grows. It has given these Kashmir women independence, community and power. In a place where violence against women is the norm, one cannot understate the importance of that.

– Gillian Buckley
Photo: Flickr

The Kashmir Conflict“If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this,” wrote Amir Khusrau, a popular Sufi poet, supposedly describing Kashmir. Today the region is known as a serious bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Here are 10 facts about the Kashmir conflict.

India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1947 and all the princely states had to choose between the two countries. Hari Singh, the Maharaja of Kashmir, did not want to decide on either. He signed an interim agreement with Pakistan to continue transport services. However, afraid of losing his power in wake of an invasion by tribesmen from Pakistan, he signed the Instrument of Accession to India in October 1947.

Line of Control
This led to more unrest and the United Nations had to intervene to negotiate a cease-fire. All troops were withdrawn and a line of control was mutually agreed upon between India and Pakistan in January 1949.

The India-Pakistan War
The Kashmir conflict resumed in the India-Pakistan War of 1965. The Pakistani army tried to take Kashmir by force but failed. The Security Council passed a resolution to put an end to the fighting and ban arms supplies to both parties.

The Shimla Agreement
The Shimla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan in 1972 to bring peace between the two countries after the Bangladesh Independence War. Another line of control was established between Indian-controlled Kashmir and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

China’s Claim
A very interesting point among the 10 facts about the Kashmir conflict is that China also claims control over 20 percent of Kashmir, namely the northeastern part of the region called the Aksai Chin.

Exodus of Kashmiri Hindus
Tens of thousands have been killed by Islamic militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir since 1989, said to be a result of parliamentary elections held by the Indian government. In response, India imposed direct rule in 1990, which worsened the situation, resulting in violent attacks on Hindu residents. 100,000 Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) fled the valley, fearing for their lives.

The Kargil conflict of 1999 erupted when India launched air strikes against Pakistan-backed troops that had infiltrated Indian-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan refused to claim responsibility for the infiltration, but was forced to call back its troops under pressure from the United States. Pakistan was also suspended from the Commonwealth.

The Uri Attack
After years of relative peace, tensions were reignited when armed militants attacked the Indian army base in Uri, killing 18 soldiers. India responded by blaming Pakistan, while Pakistan blamed India for the unrest in the region.

Human Rights Violation
The Indian army killed Burhan Wani, a 21-year-old commander of the separatist group Hizbul Mujaheedin. This led to massive protests that resulted in curfews and lockdowns in large parts of the region. The Indian army used pellet guns to disperse the angry crowd, blinding hundreds. The New York Times called it an epidemic of “dead eyes”.

Possible Solutions
As Kashmir remains a flashpoint between India and Pakistan, several solutions to the Kashmir conflict have been discussed by political experts. India and Pakistan both favor a resolution where Kashmir joins their nation. However, the inhabitants of the Kashmir valley support the declaration of an independent Kashmir or Kashmir Valley. The problem is that the region would not be economically viable, as its revenue is heavily based on tourism. Another solution that Pakistan favors is the Chenab formula, where the entire Kashmir valley with its majority Muslim population would become part of Pakistan. This is hardly plausible, as India would be required to voluntarily give up a major portion of its claim.

According to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, engagement and dialogue are fundamental to finding a peaceful solution to the 69-year-old Kashmir conflict.

Tripti Sinha

Photo: Flickr

Kashmiri Students: Refocusing Attention on Education
Kashmir is the only Indian state to guarantee free education to citizens at all levels. However, the legal promises have not translated on the ground, leaving literacy below the national average at only 54 percent. The lagging figure can be attributed to the ongoing insurgency and violence that has become almost characteristic of Kashmir.

The last few months of 2016 saw 25 schools burnt to the ground without any party to blame directly. Strikes and unrest over the statehood of Kashmir led to constant disruption in education as schools were closed and curfews prevented Kashmiri students from attending classes. The closure of educational institutions due to civil unrest is not a new phenomenon; insurgency and military uprisings leading to the burning of schools started as early as the 1990s. As recently as 2010, educational institutions in Kashmir valley closed for over two months, forcing students to leave Kashmir, just another instance of education being impacted by an insurgency.

In a region so rife with unrest and violence, education is all the more important in providing a healthy outlet for dissent and frustration. Without this avenue to channel their energy, the youth in Kashmir is pouring out their frustration with the lack of employment opportunities, governmental apathy and political stagnancy through far more violent means. The lack of access to education is a big factor in the stone-pelting incidents fueled by despair in the valley.

Thankfully, there are many organizations attempting to fill the gaps in education in Kashmir. Local initiatives have played a large role in keeping students in school even when classes are canceled or curfew is imposed. Community-run schools are springing up in the wake of torched institutions. Local teachers are giving unofficial classes in run-down classrooms. There is an atmosphere of hope even when opportunities for education seem few and far between.

The government too is attempting to alleviate the problem of education by partnering with NGOs to rebuild schools. In addition, international NGOs like Mother Helpage are supporting local students while simultaneously contributing to reconstruction efforts. These initiatives are powerful and important, however, they are not enough. Kashmir today is largely viewed as a region of political stability. As a result, the international focus remains on the issue of India and Pakistan, leaving the vast majority of Kashmiri people to fend for themselves. It is only with significantly greater international awareness of the struggles of Kashmiri students and the inadequacy of educational institutions that education in the region can be revived.

Mallika Khanna

Photo: Flickr

Education in Kashmir
With the Kashmiri conflict once again growing increasingly wanton, one overlooked and unexpected casualty of the newest surge in unrest is the education in Kashmir. Twenty-four village schools were burned down recently in a seven-week-long string of brazen, nighttime attacks on the region’s educational system.

In reporting on the latest school razing, The New York Times notes that both Kashmiri separatists and Kashmiri administrators have both traded blame on the schools’ burnings. Most importantly, however, is the apparent message that normalcy is not to return anytime soon.

While schools are literally burned down, there exist a myriad of other problems affecting Kashmiri schools because of the conflict. Researchers studying the effect the conflict has burdened the educational system with, have found psycho-social consequences affecting children that can be found throughout the decades-long conflict and which seem to at least in part self-perpetuate it. And, furthermore, disagreements arise with respect to which side should share how much of the blame for these problems.

In a brief history published in the Journal of Education and Practice of the separatists’ effect on those psycho-social consequences, the authors argue that the “insurgency is a major hindrance” in the development of education in Kashmir.

The authors highlight how in 1947, the year of the partition which formally separated Pakistan and India, the total number of all types of schools numbered at about 2,200. By 1960, however, that number nearly tripled. The authors note, though, that socioeconomic and quality of education differences may have contributed to the rise in influence of the separatists.

One study examined the impact that the Indian military’s militarization of Kashmir in recent years had on the psycho-social well-being of students in the region. The study highlights how there are almost 81 Indian soldiers for every square mile of the contested region, including in school areas, and 95 percent of them are neither Kashmiri nor Muslim, thus harboring “hardly” any sympathy for Kashmiri civilians.

The research found that the military’s presence in the residential areas “has serious ramifications including sexual violence, insecurity, abuse and other sorts of harassment.” Most affected by these realities are girls who have collectively experienced the largest rates of dropouts.

The state of education in Kashmir is an intractable situation, especially given the reality that the region has largely existed as a conflict zone for decades. Historically, however, schools and education have rarely been a target of either separatists or the military. Despite the recent arsonist attacks and the more subtle effects of the conflict on schooling and education, education in Kashmir has much to celebrate in terms of resilience, long-term development and as a glimmer of hope in the tragic conflict.

James Collins

Photo: Flickr