From once a premier address for seeking knowledge in Srinagar DAV School is struggling to survive the onslaught of time, mismanagement and politics. The latest one being sale of one of its campus illegally by the management. Syed Asma reports
Located in the heart of busy Jawahar Nagar colony the edifice of Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) School is a misfit.
The flood soaked walls, abandoned playground, locked classrooms, negate everything that once made this 70-year-old school a premier hub of education particularly for minorities in Kashmir. It gave a good fight to the missionary schools in the Valley.
Run under the patronage of Arya Samaj, Lahore till 1947, and later from Delhi, it was not September 2014 floods that ravaged DAV school. The institute is fighting a much larger battle for its survival.
The story of its fall from glory begins with the prelude of guns in Kashmir.
In 1989, after Pandits, who oversaw the functioning of DAV’s all three branches: Jawahar Nagar, Magarmal Bagh and Wazir Bagh, left Kashmir for Jammu, the roles tumbled from 6 thousand to just five students within days!
In early 1990s, three campuses, like any other edifice belonging to minority, were occupied by Indian forces. But after a few months, the staff members, mostly Muslims and Sikh, led by the Principal Shugufta Haqani, pressurized the authorities and successfully made forces to vacate at least two of their campuses. But Wazir Bagh still remained occupied.
In 1990, after a few months of occupation, Shugufta resumed work in two campuses – Jawaharnagar and Magarmal bagh.
“I tried hard to safe guard all the assets and made every effort to maintain the status of the institution,” says Shugufta .
Though, she admits, the number of students never reached thousands as it used to be, but she has a list of her achievements.
“In almost eight years, we increased the number of students to 500 and raised a bank balance to Rs 10 lakh.”
The amount included the yearly fees of the students and the government grant of a few lakh rupees from time to time. For almost eight years, Shugufta single-handedly managed both the campuses without any support from the schools management or from the minority community.
In 1998, as the sound of bullets were sporadic in the city, the migrant Pandits started visiting valley again.
The members of the managing committee who had migrated during early 90s, says Shugufta, too showed up.
Suddenly the management led by T K Ganjoo started visiting the campus on and off. By 2000, they frequented the campus, eventually taking control of schools affairs. “They withdrew Rs 10 lakh from institution’s bank account and sold off 23 kanals of land in Alluchi Bagh,” says Shugufta. “They used the sum to renovate Magarmal Bagh campus and finally sold it off.”
The sale of land snowballed into a major controversy soon. Interestingly the Magarmal Bagh campus property sold by the management is constructed on the state land.
During on-spot inspection by Dr Shah Faesal, director education, along with DC Srinagar it was found that the plot on which school is located is actually state property. Instantly education department suspended the management of the DAV Institute.
“The moment we came to know it is a state land,” says Shah Faesal, “And it has undergone a sale deed. We shifted the custody of land to Tehsildar and transferred the case to the vigilance department.”
“Going by the details we received so far. The land deed is illegal and a proper investigation will take place soon.”
He assures that they are trying to save it from the shackles of land mafia and other controversies. “I assume we will start the new admissions process soon.”
The controversy has a context and is more than two-decades old. It dates back to 1984 when principal R K Gunjoo retired and R N Kaul took over. “Kaul was selected through a fair process,” staff members of the DAV school remember, presently spending their time in the haunted campus of Jawahar Nagar.
But Kaul’s appointment triggered a controversy. Gunjoo is remembered, by his staff, as the best administrator DAV has ever got. But they add, during his tenure, he recruited some of his relatives in the school, though all well-qualified, remembers Shugufta. Shugufta joined DAV as teacher in 1984 and is Kaul’s successor.
Kaul’s appointment gave rise to two groups, one supporting him and another one loyalists of Gunjoos. Eventually both the parties went to court, suspending the school management. The court gave an interim arrangement of two judges who would take care of the institution. They were given the charge of DDO.
Till 1989, the school didn’t lose its charm and fought decently with its internal conflicts.
After 1984’s court case, the management was suspended and five years later, mass migration of Pandits took place. The school was orphaned! A few Muslim and Sikh teachers managed the school that had a few students left.
For some time, the judges acted as DDOs, the powers were later shifted to the CEO Srinagar. The arrangement with CEO lasted till 2013 and the management headed by T K Ganjoo, son of R K Gunjoo.
And in 2007, the sale deed of Magarmal Bagh campus took place. The staff members accuse the suspended management led by Gunjoo (Jr) of having a deal with some land mafia.
“I have a reason to accuse them and they designed the conspiracy in such a way that it is difficult to believe they did it,” Shugufta, who was well-versed with the development.
Shugufta claims that the staff knew about management’s plan of selling the schools property, and even tried to stop them. But the deal was finalized during winter break when the school was officially closed, says Shugufta.
“By the time, we came to know, the sale deed was done and the things, desks and chairs, were thrown in the campus of Wazir bagh. They did not even handover the official records,” she recalls.
Countering the argument, Davinder Kaul, presently secretary of the suspended management, says, “We didn’t renovate it. It was a rented building. We just renovate its outer wall and a bit inside. Nothing much!”
And on repeated questioning, he says, “We were a suspended management in 2007 (when the Magarmal Bagh campus was sold) and the institution was then run by the CEO, kindly ask him. I have no knowledge.”
While narrating the story, Shugufta gets emotional, loses temper and says, “they ruined a reputed institution for money. They successfully sold one of the campuses but I will not let them do the same to the campus in Jawahar Nagar. I will do whatever I can!”
After 2013, when the court cancelled the management’s suspension and they joined back, everything seemed to get back on track for a few months, says Shugufta, “but in early 2014, they started hampering our work and did not even release our salaries. What made things worse was September floods 2014.”
After the floods the school is yet to re-open. The students were given discharge certificates and the staff was shot a notice that the school has been closed till further orders.
“One fine morning we came to the school and saw a notice on the board, that the school has been closed,” says a Sikh teacher who lives nearby and has been serving the institution for more than two years. “Our salary for past year at least is due and they are not even responding to our calls and demands.”
While the staff members were discussing their grievances among themselves, Davinder Kaul shows up at the school with a smile. “What’s the issue? We have pasted a notice outside and are following that.”
“What about our salaries?” asks the Sikh teacher. “We will be fulfilling whatever we promised,” replies Kaul and leaves the room.
In a moment, he is surrounded by all the staff members narrating their concerns.
Kaul didn’t waste time in argument, he looks at them sternly, and left with a smile. “See you,” he said with a smile.
He had perhaps come after knowing that a reporter has landed in the campus and is enquiring about things, the staff apprehended.
The explanation for closing down the school is that until SMC allows them to build a concrete wall around the campus, they won’t re-open the school.
The school presently has an iron fence and it has been so since 1969. When asked why the fencing had suddenly become unsafe for the students, Ganjoo Jr replies “it is all about perception”.
“Perception of being safe? From animals?”
He replies, “I need to assure the safety of minority community.”
“You mean, you are apprehensive of getting attacked?”
“Yes there is a possibility. I told you, it is all perception. I have my own perception.”
Shugufta responds sarcastically, “How can we have suddenly become prone to attacks when this school managed to survive peak militancy era of 90s.”
She concludes, “They are looking for reasons not to restart the school.”