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