Kashmir: The “new normal”in a Conflict Zone

Vaibhav Karajgikar

Despite schools in the regions being shut down for the last four months, cross border skirmishes between the Indian and Pakistani armies and the ever present threat of violent protests, the state government has decided to go ahead and conduct Board level examinations in Kashmir starting today (The Times of India; 14th November, 2016). Over a 100,000 students are appearing for the secondary school exams across tenth and twelfth grades. Government officials claim to have set up adequate security measures to ensure that the exams are conducted smoothly across the centers. However, safety of the students remains a prime concern given that twenty seven schools in the region have been burned down over the last couple of weeks. The officials are looking for the perpetrators responsible but have made little progress to determine the responsible parties (Al Jazeera ; 11th November, 2016).

A number of concessions have been made to aid students with their preparation. About fifty percent of the year’s syllabus has been dropped due to poor coverage on account of schools remaining shut under the imposed curfew. Students have also been given the choice to appear for the exams in February, 2017. However, only 2% of the eligible students have opted to appear for the exams next year. The pressure of losing out on an academic year is forcing the vast majority to appear for the exams despite the volatile situation.

Political agenda seems to have taken precedence over security concerns of students. The coalition government in Kashmir, in a rush to have some semblance of normal functioning in the region, has chosen to wield education as a tool to depict normalcy on the surface at the least. Furthermore, the destruction of a number of schools by arson may in part be a retaliation to the decision of the Indian Army to occupy schools in the region as forward operating bases, making them targets for attack. The use of education as a measure to exert influence over opposing forces is playing out at high levels between the government and separatist forces. A number of appeals on the public domain by officials of the Kashmiri government seek to influence separatist leaders by pleading for education to be spared of the violence for the greater good of the younger generation. The separatist leadership in turn is accusing the government of false concern given that many of the youth detained due to alleged participation in protests are still in jail without adequate measures to process and release them (BBC News, read “The Education Debate”; 2nd November, 2016).

Yet another disturbing trend highlighted from the Pakistani point of view is the cost that Indian authorities are willing to endure to come out on top in this conflict. New Delhi justifies its record in Kashmir by arguing that it can make agitation in the valley prohibitively expensive. Further, it claims to possess the resources needed to absorb the cost of the Kashmiri operation. From the Indian point of view, what makes the situation volatile is the fact that the Pakistani government is subject to military’s veto which means that any measures by the Pakistani Government to negotiate and conduct bilateral talks may fall short of actual progress in the case that the Pakistani Army uses its considerable power. For now, the political powers appear to be at a stalemate, with both sides resorting to leverage the crumbling education framework to exert pressure on the other.

References:

  • The Times of India, “Students to sit for Kashmir secondary school exams”; article dated 14th November, 2016; retrieved on 14th November, 2016

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Students-to-sit-for-Kashmir-secondary-school-exams/articleshow/55410210.cms

  • Rifat Fareed, Al Jazeera, “Who is burning down Kashmir’s schools?”; article dated 11th November, 2016; retrieved on 14th November, 2016

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/11/burning-kashmir-schools-161102102009566.html

  • Gowhar Geelani, BBC News, “Mysterious fires keep Kashmir children out of school”; article dated 2nd November, 2016; retrieved on 14th November, 2016

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-37819842

 

 

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