By Altaf Hussain Wani
The continued conflict and turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir have had a devastating impact on almost every aspect of Kashmiri society. Education, considered as one of the fundamental human rights, has unfortunately been the hidden casualties of this lingering conflict that continues to wreak havoc on vulnerable segments of the society, in particular the young generation who are stuck in a dangerous conflict situation for the past several decades.
The years’ long turmoil has rendered the region’s education system completely paralyzed. Thousands of children are being denied the opportunity to materialize their fundamental right that has been reaffirmed in various international covenants including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
Frequent shutdowns, curfews and crackdowns, cordon and search operations have become a regular feature of life in Kashmir for the past three decades which have led to the closure of schools at an unprecedented scale. The data, collected by different governmental and non-governmental organizations, shows a severe decline in enrolment numbers during recent years. According to a survey over 3,000 adult and non-formal education centers have been closed in the region since 1990 due to financial constraints and staff shortages. Children who were born after 1990 have spent less time in schools and more time in homes owing to the persistent violence and uncertainty.
Pursuing education has been one of the problems Kashmiri children have been facing for the past 30 years. Since the 1990s, educational institutions have repeatedly been forced to close, while on the other hand, large numbers of educational institutes have been used for military purposes by the Indian security forces as schools have been converted into base camps. In most cases, the forces have constructed their barracks and bunkers nearer to schools, which has further deepened the sense of fear and insecurity among children. These kinds of situations have given birth to mental problems like fear, trauma, and depression among children in troubled region. The heightened fear/insecurity is seen as one of the dominant factors behind the rising dropout ratio.
The persistent chaos and uncertainty forced many Kashmiri parents to seek admissions for their children in different schools and colleges outside the valley. With educational institutions being burnt down or closed, thousands of Kashmiri students opted to move out of the state to materialize their cherished dream and sought admissions in different educational institutions in different Indian states.
During the 2016 mass uprising, the Indian occupation authorities shut down educational institutions, schools, colleges and universities in Kashmir valley remained shut for many months, which had rendered the region’s education system completely dysfunctional.
Unfortunately, their dream of a better future turned into a nightmarish ordeal when they found themselves caught up in whirlwinds of violence in the Indian mainland after becoming targets of hate crime motivated by racism. The hate crime led to a series of violent attacks that Kashmiri students and professionals have faced in India. They were brutally beaten by Hindu extremists at various places after being labeled as “anti-state”, and “traitors” while they faced profiling at college camps and police stations.
In February 2018, two Kashmiri students were attacked in Mahendragarh in Haryana. In March, the same year, another Kashmiri student was assaulted near Maharishi Markandeshwar University in the Ambala district of Haryana. Shakib Ashraf, another Kashmiri youth, was arrested after a mob alleged, he had cooked beef in his university hostel. The meat was later revealed to be mutton after a lab test by the police. Umar Rashid was thrashed after he told two people that he was from Kashmir.
Kaleemullah was called a “terrorist” after an altercation with another student. Mujahid Zahid was beaten with wooden sticks and logs. Bahar Ahmed Giri was told to go back to Kashmir by locals at a market. These incidents took place in the year 2017 in Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. In a similar incident of hate crime, 67 Kashmiri students studying in India were suspended and faced sedition charges after they cheered for the Pakistan cricket team in a televised match against India in 2014.
The level of prejudice against Kashmiris was such that a Hindutva group put up posters at a handful of locations in Delhi calling for Kashmiri Muslims to be driven out of the country and sent to Pakistan. The racial bias-driven hate crimes ultimately forced many Kashmiri students to leave their studies halfway and return to their homes back in the Kashmir valley. All this was happening under the very nose of the Modi government. No action whatsoever was taken against those involved in these crimes. Instead of condemning these attacks directed at Kashmiris the racist regime maintained criminal silences, which forced scores of aspiring Kashmiri students to abandon their higher education degrees. And, today, Kashmiri families think 100 times before sending their children to mainland India.
Amidst the rising tide of xenophobia, racism and deepening discrimination against Muslims within the Indian society, Pakistan was perhaps the only nearest, safe and affordable study-abroad destination for the Kashmiris. Consequently, hundreds of Kashmiri students traveled to Pakistan during recent years and took admissions in various educational institutions across the country.
Ironically, India’s paranoid regime, which deems every Kashmiri traveling to Pakistan as a threat to its country, started targeting and terrorizing these students under different pretexts.
On March 17, 2021, around 300 Kashmiris waited at the Attari border for a bus to Pakistan. Among them were around 80 students returning to Pakistan to continue their studies. As the initial buses carrying Pakistani nationals and Indians from other states departed, the Kashmiris were asked to wait for the next bus, which never arrived. Students then tried to travel by air to Pakistan. However, they were stopped by immigration authorities.
In yet another attempt to prevent Kashmiri students from traveling to Pakistan the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India issued an advisory asking students from occupied Kashmir to refrain from taking admission in educational institutions of Azad Kashmir.
Recently, another Kashmiri youth Mr. Asif Shabir Naik, a student of Media Sciences at International University Islamabad (IIU), Pakistan, was arrested on whimsical grounds by the Indian authorities at Srinagar airport on 24 October 2021 and sent to jail.
Naik traveled to Kashmir to spend summer vacations with his mother and other relatives settled in Jammu’s Doda district. He was supposed to report to the varsity soon after the end of the summer vacation. In the last week of October, he decided to return to college from home. Indian police took him into custody when he along with other classmates entered the Srinagar Airport premises. After being grilled by police Naik was detained and sent to Humhama Interrogation Center without informing his family.
An FIR under the UAPA was formally lodged against Naik and charges leveled against him seem merely a cock and bull story as the relevant documentary evidence totally belie the charges the Indian police have leveled against the poor student.
The shameful practice of implicating Kashmiri students in baseless cases and depriving them of their right to education is a deliberate attempt on the part of Indian authorities aimed at harassing, humiliating the Kashmiri students and spoiling their future. These abhorrent practices of creating barriers to children’s access to education constitute a severe violation of international law.
The right to Education is duly recognized in International Law and thereby India is obligated to grant Kashmiri children the same right that has been recognized across a plethora of international treaties and conventions.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the Right to Education” and further recognizes equal accessibility of education based on merit. The right to education is legally guaranteed for all without any discrimination. States have the obligation to protect, respect, and fulfill the right to education but it is quite unfortunate that the Indian government has been hampering the provision of access to education to Kashmiri children. At home, the school and college-going Kashmiri children suffer due to militarization, crackdowns, curfews and internet restrictions while on the other India has been creating hurdles for those who manage to seek admissions in foreign countries.
(The author is the Chairman of Islamabad-based think tank, Kashmir Institute of International Relations (KIIR). He can be reached by email, firstname.lastname@example.org)