Strike a balance

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by Masood Hussain

Students attending morning assembly at a school in Pampore.

Students attending morning assembly at a school in Pampore.

Not in public knowledge, there were a few strong voices in the famous “stakeholders” conference in Hyderpora supporting the ongoing strike, now approaching its fifth month. With four full working days in last more than 142 days, this must be the longest record of Kashmir sitting home in protest.

“Strikes have been an off and on practice. Right now, people are home for four months and once they resume, they will not be able to strike again so it is better to continue this phase,” one businessman told the meeting. “We wish to help the leadership in mitigating the sufferings of the people. Kindly let us know how many resources we require to manage for going ahead. Tell me, how much I have to pay, I will.”

This business man, who emerged a ‘leader’ of one faction of the private schools within less than a year of becoming the proud owner of a huge building, was representing part of the business, too. His ‘rival’ talked at a different wavelength. He did not support the strike but insisted that the main academic season is over so opening will not mean much as winter is more about admissions and vacations.

Students leaving examination centre after appearing in their first paper.

Students leaving examination centre after appearing in their first paper.

After the successful conduct of examinations for tenth and twelfth class followed by mass promotion to other classes, education sector has gone activity. Now schools are trying to get students back to the classroom so that a new process starts. A recent statement said that schools do not wish to spoil even a second of that Hurriyat sponsored relaxation offers. The sector is keen to recover the “losses” and get restarted, a situation that could add to the friction for some time.

Kashmir’s private sector deserves credit for keeping the education show going. Almost ninety percent of Srinagar and nearly half of the towns do not send their wards to the government run schools and the trend is rising in periphery too. Off late, the education ministry has started its ambitious project of making its vast infrastructure relevant to the society. It has created certain models but replicating them, many still require time. This situation does not alter ground situation much for the parents.

Students appear for the exams in a higher secondary school in Sopore. (Photo Abu Bakr)

Students appear for the exams in a higher secondary school in Sopore. (Photo Abu Bakr)

With every passing day, the unrest 2016 is exhibiting itself to be different in scale and scope. It has been ferocious and its spread was completely different from 2008 and 2010. It did not permit any economic activity. Manufacturing and services sector, the two main players of the economic activity were in deep slumber. Kashmir stopped managing its own requirements, barring perhaps milk. This season, Kashmir consumed Punjab cement at double the cost as our own capacity remained locked. Even the primary sector, the agriculture suffered. Himachal’s apple production was little and bad but it did not help Kashmir to get any benefit. Panicked by the overwhelming situation, Kashmir harvested its crop when it was unripe and drove it to the market at triple the normal freight thus triggering glut in major markets.

The only section of the society that remained almost-immune to the happening was the government worker. Regardless of whether they were able to deliver, report to their duties or not, they were a key player in keeping the cash cow moving, albeit at a small scale. All other workers were either spending their savings or simply lifting loans. Employers did pay for some time, then reduced the wages and eventually stopped. There are instances of employers formally disengaging their workers as part of efforts aimed at reducing liabilities.

Situation of bank-backed businesses is critical these days. Loan accounts that were not served properly are on the brinks of being declared nonperforming assets. These include many schools too, especially for their transport sections. Right now, the banks are desperately trying to get the RBI rework a package that it earlier rejected so that bad loans stop at manageable level.

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A school in south Kashmir, owned by a trust, is also facing the same situation as the entire private sector faces. “We generated an SMS, detailing the situation suggesting parents if they could help,” one of the trust members said. “It was optional.  Then people came with fees and many with words of support. Somehow we managed without coercion.”

Right now, when the admissions are taking place, schools are like pharmacies – taking every bit of the ‘costs’, they think are actual. In most of the cases, they are seeking costs they claim they incurred in last four months. In absence of the service, how justifiable is the chase to recover the costs? This may not kill parents but will surely add to their burden. Some parents may have to take tough decisions and change the schools.  Had the education ministry been able to replicate the models, it says it has already established, this was the ideal time for launching the campaign.

Schools are vital for healthy survival of education. But it is also important that parents should be comfortable in making a balance between the future of their kids with the present of their families. Ideally school association should have deliberated on this issue, consulted government and the parents and made it formal so that there is no confusion.  Even government is silent on this. No institution or a sector can prosper if the society is suffering. They should also know the basic that if there is profit, there could be loss too. The duplicity of funding a crisis and resorting to coercion at the same time is not so uncommon but is not befitting the contemporary Kashmir.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Masood Sir,

    several teachers are confident that mass copying was allowed across Kashmir in 10th and 12th classes. Surprisingly, general media has skipped the same and common readers are unaware about the same. If these allegations have basis, then people have every right to know about the same.DEMOCRACY means that. regards

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