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Over 24 schools burnt in Valley, J&K high court calls for preventive measures

Srinagar: As schools continue to be targeted by unknown arsonists in the Valley, Jammu and Kashmir high court on Monday while taking a suo moto notice of the incidents asked for taking all ‘preventive and protective’ measures towards saving the infrastructure from further harm.

The court said that collective efforts are needed to save school buildings as it is the responsibility of all to safeguard them for education being pivotal to intellectual excellence and prosperity.

The Kashmir Valley is aghast as more than two dozen school buildings have been gutted in mysterious fire incidents over the past few weeks, two of these at the weekend. The authorities have blamed the incidents on “miscreants” and indirectly blamed separatists for the destruction. But, apart from the government and various mainstream parties, social, religious and civil society groups, the separatist political parties and leaders too have strongly condemned what they said are “obnoxious” acts aimed at depriving the Valley’s young generation of education, the key to their success.

Syed Salahuddin, the chief of United Jihad Council, an amalgam of pro-militant outfits, has, on the other hand, alleged that “agents of Indian security establishment” are behind the incidents of arson and that the purpose of it was to “defame the historical Kashmir freedom movement” and “divert the attention from main Kashmir issue”. He said on Monday, “We appeal to freedom loving people to protect all the educational institutions including private schools and help us to expose the culprits. All resources will be utilized to expose and eliminate these elements.”

A division bench of the J&K High Court said earlier during the day that investment in education is an investment for future generations. It observed that setting school buildings on fire is in effect destroying the knowledge centres of future generations.

The court directed the Divisional Commissioner, the highest civilian official in Kashmir, Inspector General of Police and Director School Education Kashmir to devise modes and methods in collaboration with higher authorities and lower officials which shall be effective in protecting school institutions. 

It also asked the Chief Secretary, Director General of Police, Director School Education Kashmir to issue necessary instructions to all DCs, SSPs and Chief Education Officers (CEOs) of the concerned districts to take all preventive and protective measures necessary for saving the school buildings from any harm.

The mysterious fire incidents have taken place at a time when the government’s decision to hold the final examinations of the 10th and 12th classes from mid-November has evoked stiff opposition from some mainstream opposition parties, the separatists and other sections of the society apart from select student and academics groups on the premise that in present circumstances it would be risky to force the students to relocate to examination centres.

They have also said that hundreds of students have been maimed and even blinded in shotgun pellet firings and other actions of the security forces in their attempt to contain the unrest and many more are languishing in jails. Further the students have due to the educational institutions remaining closed for over four months not been able to complete their syllabi.

In response, the J&K Board of School Education (J&KBOSE) has promised to curtail the syllabi for the students scheduled to appear in these examinations and frame question papers accordingly.

Former Chief Minister and working president of opposition National Conference (NC) on Monday expressed concern over continued stalemate on the issue of deferment of board examinations and said the State government should talk to the students with an open mind instead of tormenting them. “Our young students who are in their crucial classes deserve every bit of our empathy and moral support. They are the worst victims of uncertainty and turmoil as a break in their academic pursuits at this junction has a direct bearing on their careers,” he said. He added, “Unfortunately, the State government has chosen to browbeat and intimidate the students into complying with their stand on holding the examinations on time despite the loss of almost four months of in-class studies and tutorials. The current unrest has also affected our children psychologically and the Government’s insensitivity is only worsening their plight.”

Mr. Abdullah said that the students have a fair point in questioning the rationality and fairness of government holding examinations on time when only around eighty school working days could be conducted as opposed to a minimum standard of around a hundred and eighty school working days that make an academic year. He also said, “While schools are being burnt and the State government is watching as a mute and helpless spectator, their arrogance on the issue of examinations is baffling if not out rightly ridiculous”. He asked, “When you cannot protect the public education infrastructure in the State, your misplaced sense of confidence in forcing examinations on the students is absurd”.

But J&K’s education minister, Naeem Akhtar, has said that by conducting the examinations the government is not trying to invent or impose anything new in the academic arena of the State. “We’re only trying to safeguard the career of lakhs of students, whereas separatists with their shutdown calls are trying to destroy their academic career,” he said.

Meanwhile, the J&K PCC chief, G. A. Mir expressed disappointment over mysterious fire incidents and alleged that it was “inefficiency and incompetence” of the State government that has led to the destruction of educational institutions. “The burning down of schools is an attack on the future of our children and the culprits must be identified sternest punishment. Is it a ploy to damage our education system.  The Government must come out of the deep slumber and stop such unlawful activities. This was an objectionable attempt to destroy the future of our children and it cannot be tolerated,” he said in a statement here.

CPIM lawmaker Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said that made a fervent appeal to all mainstream and separatist parties and leaders, academicians, teachers, scholars, religious leaders and others who can play an influential role to come forward and encourage re-opening of schools in the interest of society at large




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