Who Is Burning Down Kashmir's Schools?
SRINAGAR: The attacks on educational institutions continue unabated in Kashmir Valley with a government-run school set on fire in Ganderbal district last evening, hours after the Jammu and Kashmir government announced 50 percent reduction in syllabus for board exams that will begin next week.
Police and local sources said a mysterious fire erupted in Government Primary School of Dugpora Gadoora which was spotted by the locals who immediately informed the fire services and also made efforts to control the blaze.
“Before the fire tenders could reach the site, a makeshift kitchen of the school and the main building was partially charred by the blaze. Due to the efforts of locals and firemen, the fire was controlled. We have registered a case and investigations are on,” a senior police officer said.
The latest incident of school burning came hours after the Board of School Examinations (BOSE), the nodal body governing the school education in Jammu and Kashmir, announced 50 percent reduction in syllabus for Class 10 and Class 12 students whose exams are scheduled to begin next week.
Despite pleas by students, doctors and civil society to postpone the exams due to the nearly four-month long shutdown in the valley, the J&K government yesterday announced that it will hold the exams on schedule to prevent academic schedule from getting derailed.
Interestingly, citing the prevailing crisis in Kashmir, the state government has sought deferment of by-polls to the Anantnag parliamentary constituency which fell vacant after the election of the ruling PDP president Mehbooba Mufti as the Chief Minister of the state.
Speaking with reporters in Srinagar, BOSE Chairman Zahoor Ahmad Chatt said timely exams will “save the academic career of the students who have to appear in other national and international level competitive exams”.
“The exams for Class 10 will commence from November 15 while for Class 12, it will start from November 14. The latter will get six months to prepare for competitive exams which are held from the month of May,” Chatt said.
Earlier yesterday, a fire was detected in the heritage building of Sri Pratap College in the capital Srinagar by alert guards who doused the blaze before it could cause any damage. Police said the guards spotted smoke emanating from ground floor of the college building but it didn’t cause any damage.
Both the separatist leaders as well as the mainstream political parties have condemned the incidents of school burning with at least 30 schools targeted by unidentified arsonists since the unrest broke out in Kashmir against the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani.
Opinion in Kashmir as to who is responsible for the clearly planned arson targeting schools remains divided. While many blame the ‘agencies’, an euphemism for all government forces others are equally adamant that it is the handiwork of extremists. The state government, while a supporter of the latter view, has failed till date to investigate the incidents and pinpoint responsibility. It appears to be groping in the dark, with the forces making random arrests without being able to identify those behind what is a planned attack. PDP leaders have attributed this to the handiwork of ‘miscreants’ but Kashmiris agree that this is far more detailed and well planned than that.
The State government has issued orders for schools to be guarded. It has also expressed its determination to ensure that the students appearing for the Board examinations do not lose a year. However, it has been unable to prevent the arson or even get close to those it insists are behind these unabated series of fires. Five stonepelters were predictably arrested recently with the police claiming they were responsible for setting one of the 30 schools on fire in Pattan area, but have yet to establish a wider conspiracy. That the incidents are well planned is evident, and unlike the young stonepelters who are more often caught than not, no one has been caught red handed for these mysterious fires that have created deep concern and worry amongst the Kashmiris.