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SYEDA HAMEED | 20 OCTOBER, 2017

A Journey to Pulwama: Education Amidst Violence

SYEDA HAMEED


SRINAGAR: The car raced along winding roads leading to the newly constructed highway taking me to Pulwama. I had been invited to inaugurate Dolphin International School in its new campus and its brand new building. The shamiana seated over a thousand people, including parents and guests, the air was festive.

For me it was an emotional journey. Eighty years ago it was in these parts that my father, began work as Director Education for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. He had been invited by Sir Gopalaswami Iyengar who was Prime Minister of the Maharaja. He was given the brief of introducing Basic Education in a taleem starved state. Having spent most of his life (he was 34 years old at the time) in learning and teaching, this was his first foray of work 'in the field'.

Maharaja Hari Singh was keen to invite Dr Zakir Husain, but he declined because of his commitment to Jamia and Aligarh. Instead he offered the services of the man who had actually written the Wardha Scheme of Basic Education under instruction of Gandhi ji and himself.

It was thus that Khwaja Ghulamus Saiyidain (KGS) left Aligarh where he was serving as Principal of Teachers Training College. He moved with his wife and three daughters to take up this tough assignment in Srinagar. I was not yet born and it was by accident of birth that I became a Kashmir born although to my regret never got the status of a state subject.

The date chosen for the school's inauguration happened to be KGS's birthday. Thus three compelling reasons made me undertake this journey. First, it was land of my birth, second the subject was Education and third it was the day Kashmir's first educationist (KGS) was born.

To understand the genesis of these wonderful coincidences I read the Kashmir portion of father's autobiography 'Mujhe Kehna hai kuchh apni zuban mein'. Reading about his exploration of the valley in quest of education, I had visions of him riding on horseback to Pulwma's remote villages and other hamlets of South Kashmir to examine conditions of schools.

There is an old family photo or two of him on a horse with his jamadar posing before a jharna along the road. His recollections, beautifully written, showed the abysmal state of Education all over the state. He describes one incident during his visit to Muzaffarabad (undivided Kashmir) where he came across a school which was running in a one room tehkhana (basement) devoid of natural light and fresh air.

The sight of the small children huddled up in cold bleak dungeon like school made him wince. He returned to base and wrote a letter to the Minister of Education with a copy to the Prime Minister. 'If hundreds of years from today an archeologist discovers the ruins of this particular 'school' he would record his conclusion that in this region there existed an uncivilized race who subjected their children to this tortuous educational infrastructure'. The result of this missive was the immediate sanction of small fund to hire a couple of rooms for relocating this infamous school.

The first thing he did in his tenure was to constitute a Committee of three best educationists of the country to make the roadmap for Education for the state. These three were Dr Zakir Husain, Prof Tajammul Husain and a household name in Kashmir, Mr Tindal Bisco. Knowing the fate of such committees he ensured that its report was ready in one month. The state also cooperated and accepted most of its recommendations including the allocation of modest funds.

Dolphin International School is the brainchild of dreamer, Farooq Fazli. For 8 years the school functioned in limited space with limited means. Now there is space, a large building plus supporting parents and good teachers. For me one most endearing part of the project was the presence of three young people from Delhi and Ahmedabad who were there shoulder to shoulder with Farooq Sahib in turning the dream into reality.

Two young women Avni and Lopa were from Srishti School of Design, Bangalore and a young man Vikramjeet from Delhi School of Economics now a full time theatre therapist. They have overseen the project over the last few months, figuring how to deal with traumatic circumstances, which are a daily occurrence, in the most positive way. The distance from Delhi/Ahmedabad to Pulwama is measured by them in multiples of love and care. Religion, geography, dietary preferences has melted away in the warmth of mission and relationships.

That morning I had read in Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir a scathing report of the abysmal state of education in the state. It stated that at present there are 1750 single teacher schools in the valley. In 2015, 124 schools were found with zero students on the rolls and teachers drawing full salaries.

A 'rationalization' exercise was begun by the state but lack of implementation left the situation unchanged. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Midday Meals, Madhyamaik Shiksha have not shown requisite results. One of the speakers, Ghulam Nabi Var, president Pvt. Schools Forum, said that a country would prove its worth if it spent more money on Education than Defence. Worldwide that has not happened nor likely to ever happen, given the war rhetoric that dominates world fora.

In this gloomy scenario the silver lining is what Pulwama showed on Oct 16 2017. The day before there was a bandh call in the district on account of a shootout in one of its villages in which security forces killed two militants and one bystander, a young innocent boy. Scenes of mourners at the three janazas were flashed on news channels. People 'warned' me about visiting a volatile spot. But what I saw while passing a few towns on my way was just another normal day in the life of an average Kashmiri.

It was the hope behind this new school, vision of its founder, labour of the team of workers with help coming from most unexpected places, which my father may have dreamt of as the fabric of education when he rode across the hilly terrains examining schools in the countryside.

(Syeda Hameed is former Member, Planning Commission)

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