Schools became surprising targets of arson and destruction after Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016. Officially all are operational. Umar Khurshid visited some of these schools to report how the students are managing their education despite lack of space and key basics
Nazir Ahmad, a science teacher at Islamabad’s Islamia Hanfia Higher Secondary School remembers spending September 19, 2017, strictly as per the routine that situation had enforced on the ground. It was around dusk when his phone buzzed. It was one of his students informing him in a choked voice: “Sir School Haz Doud.”
Shocked, Nazir’s phone fell from his hands. He started running towards the school, almost 5 km away. Somehow, he managed to get a bike from one of his acquaintances and he drove off very fast.
Before him, many of his colleagues, students, and residents, had reached the spot. Shrouded in smoke, he could see the flames leaping up into the sky as people were carrying water in buckets to help fire men to douse the fire. “I was shocked to see the major portion getting into cinders,” recalls Nazir.
This was not the only or the first school that was destroyed in 2016 summer. Schools started going up into the smoke within days after teenage rebel Burhan Wani was killed in July 2017. By the time the trend stopped, more than 35 schools were burned.
This was not an ordinary building. Since 1926, this building has remained the centre of learning in the town. But after the fires devastated it, the school was left unattended till Kashmir became normal.
Once school resumed its routine, the students are being adjusted in merged classes, thanks to the Wakf Board that allotted the school some more. Teachers and students find it really difficult to manage with extreme scarcity of space.
“Apart from 15 classrooms, three fully equipped science laboratories, one office, and a library were gutted in the fire,” Sajad Ahmed, the Principal, said. “We converted book store into the staff room.”
“We sometimes feel moving in a war zone because of the un-cleared debris,” one student said. “Some of us even try to skip classes because of overcrowding.”
After the fire, there was a survey and talks about the estimation of the loss and restructuring but there was no follow up.
Iqra Public School of Batagund, Verinag is a private middle school which was burnt down on October 23. It was a lovely three-story building with eightclass rooms and an office, all destroyed by fire. Its loss was felt much more because it was privately run and owned and teachers were also local.
It took the school managers a month to locate some space to resume teaching. Authorities came, recorded things and left. Teachers contributed from their own earnings to help managers construct some rooms, which they did. “We would have taken another building on rent also but the money ultimately comes from students,” explains Mohammad Ayoub Bhat, the principal. “All our students come from middle-class backgrounds.”
Since the school has been shifted to the new place many students have left the school giving the reason that it’s very far from the residential areas.
October 10, 2016, was Sunday. At 4:15 pm, Showkat Ahmed principal Government Higher Secondary School Kabamarg got a call from an unknown number informing him that his school was in flames. He tried calling Abdul Salam 50,Chowkidar but it did not mature. He finally started seeking lift to reach to Kabamarg.
Before the incident, Showkat had met with an accident and his leg was wrapped with plaster. “I was not even able to walk, due to the pain and heavy weight of plaster,” says Showkat. Frustrated over the destruction of his school, Showkat asked one of his family members to cut his plaster and managed to reach his school. His school was on fire.
Showkat was not the lone teacher who reached the spot. He saw his colleagues taking out lockers, furnitures and other lab equipment. Of the ten rooms, eight were destroyed.
Once the situation improved, the school administration repaired some of the rooms but students still have serious space problems. “Imagine 100 students in a normal room,” Showkat said. “Many of the female students feel suffocation for lack of space.” Science stream faced the worst because the laboratory ceased to exist.
The same day,state run Boys High School Batengoo was also destroyed. Of its ten rooms, seven were destroyed including library and laboratories.
At 2:00 pm, Matina Tabaan, the principal, got a call telling her that a massive protest was going on outside the school. Two minutes later, she got another call that a tear gas shell landed in the school and it caught fire. Matina rang up her CEO.
“I got many calls later,” Matina said. “But I was helpless, I could not move because of situation.” She and three of her colleagues, however, reached their school, the next day. Amid wails, they drafted a quick damage report and submitted it to the higher-ups.
Later with the help of local school funds, some rooms were renovated. ““We have eleven rooms functional in which 10 are being used for classes,” Matina said. ”Till we renovated it, we took a local building on rent but we never stopped teaching.”
The Government Middle School of Halpora ( Vailoo) was set ablaze on November 14, 2016. It had a two story building. Since then students are being taught in an old unsafe building.
After an incident, the school was combined with the primary school and the building of eight rooms allotted to them is unsafe. More than 250 students are running the risk of getting hurt in the building.
Gulshana Banoo 38, who heads the school, said the building is totally unsafe and it can fell down anytime. “We are eight teachers and we don’t even have a proper room available for the staff,” she said. “The second storey is crumbling; we get scared while walking up the stairs.”
Students and the parents said that since their village is far from the district headquarters, authorities rarely bother to visit and see the sufferings of the students. “Not a single officer has visited the village after the fire,” even teachers confirmed.
Government High School Narsenger (Vailoo) was burnt down on November 3, 2016. Local Zonal Education Officer (ZEO) Bashir Ahmed Mangnoo said since this school burning was the second case in his area, he was frustrated. “I did not know how to deal with it,” Mangnoo said. Though he is sure that both the school will be renovated, his problem is the roll: 600 students in the unsafe building.
Ghulam Rasool Shah, Chief Education Officer said that the authorities have revived these schools with the local school funds. “Some would require more resources,” he said. “We have forwarded the list to higher authorities so that those schools will be renovated soon, but no funds have been allotted yet to any of the school.”