Paying The Cost

After the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan in 2003, the schools in Uri had reported a surge in the number of students. The recent escalation on LoC is threatening to bring the situation back to square one, Sameer Yasir reports.

Students of a school in Charunda villages in North Kashmir's Uri region --Photo: Yaqoob Lala
Students of a school in Charunda villages in North Kashmir’s Uri region –Photo: Yaqoob Lala

On Jan 6, when Indian and Pakistani troops were exchanging fire on the line of control in Charunda village of Uri, Munner Ahmad, 15, was anxious that his school might also get hit by the shells flying across the divide. On the next day, he visited his school only to find a shell that had landed in the playing ground.

“Had it happened in the day, we would have been killed. After our school was closed for winter vacation, teachers have been running tuition classes,” Muneer says. The government-run primary school has 60 students on its rolls but because of the disturbance over the last few months in the forsaken Charunda, the student attendance went down before vacations.

The school remained frequently shut after the ceasefire violations took place at the LoC since Sept last year. Most of the children, sensing trouble, had refrained from going to school. “Before shelling used to take place, we would enjoy going to school. But now we are afraid that shells might hit the school building and we all would be killed,” a frightened Munner told Kashmir Life.

The primary school in Churnada has an enrolment of 60 children with more than 25 girl students. Most of these children, teachers say, are afraid and traumatized because of the continious disturbances.  “After the 2003 ceasefire, the percentage of students in the schools had increased which is true with every neighboring village in Uri,” says Shafiq Mir, a teacher in the school.

This is not the first time that tensions on LoC have traumatized the children, Shafiq says, “It has been happening since many months. The schools were functioning properly until the firing started in September last year. Because of this, we are reporting a huge dropout in the winter tuition classes.”

According to the figures provided by the department of education in Baramulla, there are almost 25 schools falling on LoC in Uri. “Most schools remain closed during the tension between the two countries. Ever since the tension deescalated on LoC in 2003, there was a huge influx of students,” says Zonel Education Officer, Uri, Tufail Ahmad.

The fresh incidents of violence has bought the memory of May 3 2000, back for many parents when five school children and a civilian were killed in the Pakistani shelling. The tragic death of these children had happened in Chotali village near LoC.

This incident raised concerns among parents about their children. “A dropout of over 80 percent was reported in the school at that time,” says Aftab Ahamd who served as Zonal Eductaion Officer in Uri at that time.  “But after the ceasefire, the picture was getting better. More students were joining the school. ”

Ali Mohammad Dar, the village-head of Chotali says they stopped children from going to school after that incident because it fell in vulnerable zone. “That incident frightened people and for two years, no one went to school,” he says.

“Today, those children who were in schools at that time, work as labourers in Uri. Had that fateful incident not happened, most of these boys who are uneducated would have been in colleges,” Dar says.

Few months back, Silkote Middle School in Uri was filled with students. Due to the recent firing in Churanda, the teachers offer free tuition but the classes are almost empty these days. “Education becomes the first casualty of tensions on LoC. People are reluctant to send their wards to the school. They prefer to keep them illiterate rather than risking their lives.”

After the ceasefire, all most all the schools in Uri registered an increase in the number of students. “Surprisingly, a majority of students were girls. In nineties, we had a tough time convincing people to send girls to school,” the ZEO says.

When militancy erupted in Kashmir, majority of parents in Uri had decided not to send their girls to school. While the reasons are not clear, most of the girl drop-outs were reported from high schools. The recent ceasefire had changed thing to a large extent.

“Before the ceasefire, our lives were miserable. We had to depend on government for everything because we could do nothing except sit at home and pray that we won’t get killed.  But things had changed for better. The renewed tension has once again made us think whether this will last or not,” Aleem Din, one of the residents of the Churunda, says.

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