Why Are Children’s Stories Missing In Kashmir?

Kashmir Child Children Students

Ifat, a tech and social justice researcher from Kashmir, recollects that she hardly went to school for three days a week. The remaining days saw bad weather, curfews or encounters. Her school was not equipped to handle weather issues but so wasn’t the world to adapt to a pandemic and yet it did.

Why have Kashmiri children been deprived of normal education and how has it affected their lives? 

Kashmiri students studying elsewhere had come back before the abrogation of Article 370 with limited study material which they covered within days. They had nothing else to read and were left behind by their contemporaries in India. A student of class 12th says that his batch was expected to know at least 70% of the syllabus even though only 30% of the syllabus was covered due to the blockade between 2019 and 2020. 12th standard syllabus cannot be self studied, lagging behind leads to depression and suicidal thoughts. An 8th grader could not study that year because his mother used to cry day and night as his sister studying outside the valley was unreachable for months. They didn’t know whether she was dead or alive. As if that trauma wasn’t enough, they were witnessing financial crisis, detentions and violence all around. 

A freelance educator and mechanical engineer who runs a learning platform says, “Schools in Kashmir were shut for over a year, resulting in the loss of social and cultural growth. When you completely disconnect a region from all sources of communication with the outside world and children are locked at home doing nothing, you’re hindering their growth and the childhood they deserve. There was no scientific, artistic, or language exposure for children who had already lost a lot.” 

Teachers also lack the resources and opportunities to offer the kind of learning schools in Indian states provide. The interruption in the education of Kashmiri children is intentional. They cannot even enjoy the right to make friends and build meaningful relationships in school. They were exposed to a lockdown which was 8 months longer than the rest of the world and had no means of communication, unlike the rest of the world. 

Under such abnormal restrictions, teachers are forced to teach what is not even their expertise and that further compromises the quality of education. A school principal in Pulwama says that they went through two major issues- financial crises and academic loss. His school is in a village where the population is financially weak and illiterate, making it very difficult for him to run the school. They could not even source books for the new session in 2020 and the Covid lockdown was imposed again. The teachers worked without salaries for 11 months and the school could not even get 10% of its usual revenue. 

A prominent Kashmir University professor, human rights and international law scholar says that when the conflict started in the 90s, it was assumed that the education system in Kashmir will collapse as most of the teachers were Kashmiri Pandits. However, the teachers and students excelled even in those harsh times. But soon after, the conflict consumed some teachers as well. One of his colleagues was killed by militants and another by the army during a crossfire. There can be no outside replacement of high calibre teachers lost in Kashmir and therefore the schools and universities have to make do with what they have. Higher education is beyond what’s written in the books and knowledge production cannot happen while keeping one’s eyes and ears closed. One of professor’s colleagues has been imprisoned for life for talking about the resistance against occupation.

Families that can afford to send their children out due to the fear of oppression sometimes end up going to inadequate colleges because leaving Kashmir is more important than getting a good education. Kashmiri students can easily be identified by their appearance and are often harassed when something happens in Kashmir, in India or when India and Pakistan have a cricket match. Before the demolition of Babri Masjid, Javed from Pulwama, pursuing an MSc in Physics at AMU, was returning to Kashmir due to the communal tension in India but rioters targeted the train he was on. His friends locked themselves in the toilet, he couldn’t and the rioters threw him out of the moving train. He died. 

Growing up without fathers

Kashmiri journalist Asif Sultan’s daughter was only a few months old when he was arrested. Asif was charged under UAPA and a month before his arrest, the crime investigation department called his newspaper and raised objections about an article Asif had written. On the other hand, The National Press Club of the USA awarded Asif with the press freedom award. Asif was recently released after 5 years but rearrested within a week. A campaign by Stand With Kashmir reports that around 4000-13000 Kashmiris have been detained since August 5, 2019. Some political prisoners were released during the pandemic but most of them are still languishing in the jails of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. More than 3000 prisoners are in jails across Jammu and Kashmir. Some minors before or after 2019 have simply been arrested for playing cricket. A minor arrested in 2019 was kept naked in the jail, with snakes thrown in his cell. And between these atrocities they go through, the current Indian government forces their schools to have them participate in flag hoisting ceremonies on Independence Day.

Ahmed is a student of Anthropology, poet and writes for several international news outlets. He is the son of two political prisoners, his father being the longest-serving prisoner in Kashmir. Ahmed is 23 years old and says that every child in Kashmir is abnormally mature because a lot is at stake for them. He was born in the winter of 1999, just two months before his father was jailed again for participating in the resistance movement. Ahmed was in his father’s arms when he was being taken away, crying, not letting go of his shirt. He grew up in the complete absence of his father. Their family had to live in hideouts and had to frequently change names to remain safe as his mother had also been detained multiple times for protesting against state crimes. Police used to visit their school to know his mother’s whereabouts. When Ahmed asked his mother why his father was never around, she responded that he was jailed for speaking the truth. As a child, he couldn’t believe that one could be jailed for speaking the truth because truth was supposed to be rewarded. The prison was a place for criminals instead of truth speakers for him. It didn’t make sense. That’s when his brother intervened, understanding his dilemma, and said that he was jailed for not doing his homework. That made sense to Ahmed. For years they couldn’t meet his father as visiting him could have his mother arrested. But the wish to meet him was so strong that Ahmed purposely skipped homework once to see whether he would be arrested as well. He wasn’t and that’s when he knew it was a lie. 

Things became a little better in Kashmir when Ahmed turned 7 and that’s when they went to meet his father for the first time. He used to wonder why his life wasn’t normal and while waiting to see his father in the prison, saw many other children waiting to meet their fathers. They were frisked and their little arms stamped before they could proceed. The state makes them think that they are more entitled to their fathers than the children, asking them to separate after a few minutes. Ahmed saw torture marks on his father’s back. He now believes that being unaffected by the occupation is abnormal and resisting the occupation and being arrested is normal. He says that the best of Kashmiris are either in jail or in graveyards. Ahmed’s mother used to make him befriend the children of martyrs so he realises that to have his father alive in jail is still a privilege. He can at least write him letters. 

When Ahmed was introduced to Afzal Guru’s son, Ghalib, he had a cheerful smile on his face. Ahmed can never forget that moment. Ghalib was around 12 when his father was hanged, he knew what was happening. Yet here he was, not complaining, and his mother lamenting that Ahmed must be having a hard time coping with the absence of his father. 

In 2006, Ahmed’s mother was arrested for protesting against government-sponsored human trafficking in which local girls were sent to bureaucrats and ministers. That’s when he felt orphaned for the first time, living with his uncle while his brother was sent to his aunt. She was arrested again in 2008, in 2009 while protesting against Asiya and Nilofer’s rape case, yet again in 2010 and 2016. Sitting in the waiting room of Central Jail, Srinagar, Ahmed saw a man his father’s age waiting to meet his son of Ahmed’s age. That’s the cycle of life in Kashmir, he says.

When you start understanding the impact of occupation on everyone’s life, you look at yourself as a Kashmiri Muslim first and then as a son, daughter, brother or father. You start appreciating those in jail, and their cause. Ahmed has never spent time with his father yet his beard has already turned grey and his will is attached to a letter. 

People asked Ahmed’s mother to be at home following her husband’s arrest. They said that the children needed her more than the cause. Yet she played the role of a mother and an activist simultaneously. She is much more than the wife of a political prisoner. That’s what Ahmed has learnt from his mother. He did not sit back even though both his parents were in jail. “You owe to the cause as an individual”, he says. 

Occupation snatches the joy out of little things. Each time Ahmed had a good meal, he felt guilty about the food his father would be getting in jail. When he slept on a comfortable bed, he thought about his mother sleeping on the floor in Tihar jail. He kept an extra plate on the dastarkhwaan during dinner every night, in case his father returned from jail and assumed they were accustomed to his absence. 

And strange things turn into moments of joy. A few years ago, Ahmed went through surgery for appendix while both his parents were behind bars. He had his uncle and aunt around but not the people who gave him birth. When he opened his eyes in the hospital, his father was on one side of the bed and his mother on the other. Ahmed’s father managed to prepone his eye check-up and his mother suffering from multiple conditions like asthma and arthritis managed to convince the jail authorities to send her for treatment on the same day. That was the first time he saw his parents together, outside jail, in a hospital. The scar from that surgery made Ahmed grateful and the surgery felt like a blessing. He is allowed to talk to his mother once a month, for 5 minutes. The right to immediately reach out to his parents in times of fear or discomfort has been taken away. He mentioned this to his father and the next time Ahmed visited him in prison, his father had written numbers on a wooden block the size of a landline receiver, drawn a network sign and wrote “ABBU incoming call”.  

Kashmiri children grow up watching the occupation denying ‘personhood’ to their families. They are treated as a collection of unwanted beings. These children witness betrayal and fear too early in life, taking away their innocence and carefreeness. They’ve seen even doctors being thrashed by the army. Many youngsters in South Kashmir were randomly picked up and tortured within a week of August 5, 2019, says a journalist who recorded but couldn’t publish these incidents. When calling the oppressors ‘oppressors’ becomes a crime, children know they are in a war zone and nothing will ever be fair for them. When life exists between helplessness and hopelessness and resistance is the only way to live, how does one teach children to dream? 

(The sources have been kept anonymous for their safety considering the unimaginable crackdown on individual and collective voices from Kashmir. Many accounts have been deactivated, articles removed and websites blocked.)

Swati Goswami is an Ahmedabad-based writer

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News