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

Top Developments in the India- Pakistan Conflict: Terrorism, Education, and PovertyThe India-Pakistan conflict dates back to 1947, when both countries gained independence from the British. Yet after more than 60 years of tumultuous coexistence, war and poverty are still imperiling the lives of many, especially in the India administered region of Kashmir and the bordering regions of Pakistan. With a slew of periodic terror activities by many separatist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, the lives of many hang in the balance.

The killing of activist Burhan Wani in 2016 has been the main catalyst for the recent surge of violence in the Kashmir Valley. Srinagar, the capital, has been pervaded by unrest, protests and demonstration ever since. Millions of people in war-torn areas of the region live below the poverty line due to the recent surge in hostilities, especially in the Line of Control areas, India’s de facto border with Pakistan.

Since 1989, over 60,000 people have been killed due to violent armed rebellion in Kashmir. Nearly 10,000 people have disappeared and have not been accounted for. Over 45 percent of children under five are malnourished in Pakistan. Human rights violations and the oppression of minorities are rampant, and innocent civilians continue to get caught in the crossfire.


Learn about poverty in Pakistan


According to the Indian Ministry of Labor and Employment, Kashmir has 105 unemployed individuals per 1,000 people, the highest unemployment rate in recent years. The level of unemployment is impoverishing many individuals, creating more social divisions and aggravating tensions between families. With rising unemployment, small-scale industries like handicraft and embroidery are rapidly on the decline.

Education in the region has been gravely affected by the escalating India-Pakistan conflict. Many children in Kashmir have been denied primary education and social safety nets due to their circumstances. They often have to work in unorganized sectors for a living to support their families.

During her speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj stressed the importance of the empowerment of the poor in alleviating the effects of the India-Pakistan conflict. The socioeconomic status of people living in disputed areas has been steadily declining.

To combat these issues, the regional government is setting up juvenile homes to rehabilitate children impacted by the conflict and those affected by drug abuse, psychological trauma and other issues. Mental health issues such as PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression are quite prevalent in Kashmir, and these homes will help provide treatment.

Despite the India-Pakistan conflict, Kashmir has become the first state in the country to commit to a universal basic income to raise incomes and protect the poorest in the state. The cost of delivering welfare schemes is also decreasing.

India will only resume talks with Pakistan on easing the conflict if cross-border terrorism is halted. Not only will this help open dialogue between the two nations, but it will also help address humanitarian aid, resettlement and restoration. Like the Afghan conflict, the India-Pakistan conflict must be tackled through a regional approach and comprehensive bilateral discussions.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Universal Basic IncomeTension-fraught Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is laying plans to provide a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to all its residents living Below the Poverty Line (BPL). This plan is the first instance of an Indian state committing to a UBI policy.

Jammu and Kashmir’s State Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu proclaims that a UBI will prevent wastage of monetary funds. In a January 2017 budget presentation, Drabu announced that the J&K would use direct benefit transfers. This means that the government deposits money directly into individual bank accounts.

Economic experts have for long endorsed a UBI. According to Pranab Bardhan, emeritus professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, Below the Poverty Line (BPL) lists in most Indian states exclude persons legally designated as poor, while numerous well-off families succeed in bribing their way onto the lists.

In Jammu and Kashmir, where geopolitical turmoil wreaks havoc on the economy and the public’s standard of living, UBI systems could tackle poverty. The J&K has a poverty rate of 21.63 percent. Additionally, the unemployment rate among young people is an alarming 24.6 percent.

In 2011, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), in a project funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), launched pilot studies of the effectiveness of such UBI grants in India. Several results stood out:

  1. Recipients often used the money to improve their housing, latrines, walls and roofs. Additional funds were employed to take precautions against malaria.
  2. Nutrition has advanced: the average weight-for-age of young children increased, particularly among girls.
  3. Diets also improved, as commerce shifted from ration shops to markets. More fresh fruits and vegetables consequently became affordable.
  4. Improved health led to superior rates in school attendance and performance.

The SEWA/UNICEF trial yielded greater benefits for working class families, women, and persons with disabilities. Universal Basic Income helps reduce debt and renders less likely the need to go into more significant debt. Individuals reduced the need to borrow money for short-term purposes.

UBI will replace several current welfare schemes, compelling cooperation between the central Indian government and Jammu and Kashmir. Aside from lowering the cost of delivering social programs, Drabu declares UBI plans will deter leakages that plague many current social programs. Existing policies have left over 350 million people mired in poverty, even after two decades of high economic growth.

Universal Basic Income in Jammu and Kashmir will replace several current welfare schemes, necessitating cooperation between the central Indian government and J&K. In addition to reducing the expense of delivering the social projects, Drabu maintains UBI will deter leakages that plague many current social programs.

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

Tension over Kashmir resurfaced in the form of a cricket match, as 67 students were charged with sedition after cheering on a Pakistani team at their university in Meerut, India on March 2. The Kashmiri students, who were attending the College of Swami Vivekan and Subharti University in India’s Uttar Pradesh region, faced life sentences before widespread outcry from other students across the country.

Protesters argued the seriousness of the sedition charges, which many did not feel their actions warranted, eventually succeeding in getting them dropped to a misdemeanor disturbance of public harmony. Prior to the charges being dropped, the students’ defense claimed that they never threatened to bring down the government nor tried to hurt India’s national integrity.

The case quickly gained national attention after the Opposition Peoples Democratic Party publicly demanded leniency and an apology from the University and state officials for their acts of “fascism.” Also, active in demonstrations were the Kashmir University Students Union as well as several chief officials from the northeastern regions of Uttar Pradesh and Jammu. The Pakistani Government who has offered to welcome their own universities to the students at hand.

Many critics feel as though the charges were motivated by ethnic and political discrimination, since the students committed no actual illegal act outside of rooting for the wrong team. The contentious Kashmir region has been the subject of controversy since it was divided between India and Pakistan in the 1947 partition and has prompted two Indo-Pakistani wars in the decades since.

According to the Student Union, the scenario “is nothing new, but a testimony to the fact that we have been in a perpetual state of war with India for the past 67 years.”

Since 1989, popular insurgency has been fighting for either Kashmiri independence or a complete merge with Pakistan. Sentiments of nationalism resonated in the arrested students’ actions, which reports say consisted of cheers of “Long live Pakistan” and “We want freedom.”

Vice chancellor of their university, Manzoor Ahmed, holds the students responsible and supports the sedition accusations, stating “You cannot pass judgments against your own national team. Their behavior was not conducive to peace on campus. It creates bad blood with the local boys.”

However, the students themselves claim the cheers were not political at all, but rather inspired by loyalty to their cricket team alone. Cricket is the national pastime of India, and has enjoyed popularity in South Asia due to the lingering legacy of British colonial rule. Cricket events, like the Asia Cup in which the two national teams were competing at the time of the arrests, are valued as one of the only spaces for tolerance and friendship between India and Pakistan, who both share a love of the game.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Al Jazeera America, Times of India, New York Times
Photo: The Star