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More than 24 School Burnings by unidentified Arsonists Cause Consternation in Indian Kashmir

Amid the accusations and counter accusations, observers point out that the victims are the tens of thousands of students in the valley

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FILE - Kashmiri Muslim student Hilal Ahmed Hajam, left, and Nasir Ahmed Mir inspects the damage of a partially burned government high school in Goripora, outskirts of Srinagar, India controlled Kashmir, Nov. 1, 2016. VOA

New Delhi, November 3, 2016: More than two dozen schools have been burned in Indian Kashmir by unidentified arsonists during the last two months as education becomes a new flashpoint in the unrest that has gripped the region since July.

It is first time that schools have been targeted on this scale in the restive Himalayan valley where Islamic militants usually strike at military or police targets. Most schools have also remained closed for nearly four months due to a shutdown call given by separatist leaders in the state.

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After three schools were set ablaze last weekend, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court called on the state government to ensure their protection, “unmask the enemies of education” and deal with them with an “iron hand.”

But there appear to be no clear answers as to who is behind the spate of destruction of school buildings that has taken place across 10 districts. Some schools have been completely gutted, while others are partially burnt.

Police say they have made some arrests, but have not announced who is to blame.

Observers say the burning of the institutions accelerated after the state government made attempts to reopen schools, and announced that examinations would be held on schedule despite their prolonged shutdown.

Schools were initially closed due to a curfew imposed after the killing of a local militant leader, Burhan Wani, triggered a wave of violent anti-India protests in which about 90 people have died. Later separatist leaders included educational institutions in weekly strike instructions they have been issuing.

FILE - Indian security personnel inspect a house allegedly damaged by from gunfire from the Pakistan side of the border, at a residential area near the international border at Bidipur, in Ranbir Singh Pura, India, Oct. 22, 2016. VOA
FILE – Indian security personnel inspect a house allegedly damaged by from gunfire from the Pakistan side of the border, at a residential area near the international border at Bidipur, in Ranbir Singh Pura, India, Oct. 22, 2016. VOA

Top state officials have slammed the separatists, saying they want to raise a generation of uneducated youth who can be used to pelt security forces with stones.

“That is the intention. To keep them away from schools and have cannon fodder ready,” Kashmir education minister, Naeem Akhtar told VOA. “They (separatists) have allowed businesses to work partially, the private trade, everything is going on. It is about denying education to students,” he said.

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Condemning the burning of schools, Kashmir’s main coalition of separatist groups, the All Parties Huriyat Conference, has shot back saying that the school burnings are part of a “well-planned strategy to malign the ongoing movement and paint it as violence and anarchy.”

Amid the accusations and counter accusations, observers point out that the victims are the tens of thousands of students in the valley.

For the government, reopening schools would be a signal that normalcy has returned to Kashmir, which is suffering its most prolonged phase of unrest since a violent separatist insurgency abated 15 years ago. Top separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has said schools will only be allowed to open once the government concedes to their demand to release all those detained during the protests.

“It is just so sad that all issues in Kashmir begin to become about propaganda or rhetoric when these are very important daily life issues. It is between ridiculous and tragic,” said Radha Kumar, a policy analyst who was a government interlocutor in Kashmir when protests gripped the region six years ago.

FILE - Masked Kashmiri protesters shout pro-freedom slogans during a protest in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Oct. 14, 2016. VOA
FILE – Masked Kashmiri protesters shout pro-freedom slogans during a protest in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Oct. 14, 2016. VOA

Both the police and state government have appealed to the local community for help in protecting the schools, saying it is impossible to provide security to over 12,000 buildings spread over the mountainous region.

As the arsons triggers a wave of popular anger, Education Minister Akhtar sees a ray of hope. “The silver lining is that society has risen like one man. In fact the entire education has become a subject of debate. That is what I see as a silver lining in otherwise a very dark horizon,” he said.

In a region where there is widespread alienation and anger with security forces and the state government, the burning down of schools has caused consternation.

Kumar said, at least where the issue of education is concerned, public opinion is with the government. “What the government does have in their favor is that there is now a large public outcry against the burning of schools,” she said. “That should help them a great deal if they show a serious commitment to reopening the schools and providing education.”

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South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly, said the situation in Kashmir since July has been very difficult for young students. “Burning of schools is a serious concern. Attacks upon schools denies the child the right to an education,” he said.

Divided between India and Pakistan, Kashmir was wracked with a violent separatist insurgency in the 1990’s, but the situation had greatly improved in the last 15 years, although there were brief phases of unrest. The present turmoil however has raised fears that it is slipping back into a conflict phase. (VOA)

Next Story

Fake News on Jammu and Kashmir Fanning Hatred

The hysteria unleashed on social media contributed to a shift in India’s focus from fighting cross-border terrorism to bringing the pilot back home, according to experts

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India Polls, Fake News, Millions
Reaching out to the old people, who are newly getting introduced to smartphones and social media is a challenge. Pixabay

As an information war broke out amid continued lockdown of Jammu and Kashmir following abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, fake news originating from the rumour mills in different places around the world including Pakistan have gone into overdrive to sow seeds of discord among security forces and fuel hatred among citizens of India.

From allegations of rift between the CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir Police to falsely showing scenes of 2018 Kulgam blast video as “massacre” being carried out in the region, rumour mongers are leaving no stone unturned to build public opinion against India.

Fact-checking website Boom on Monday revealed that two graphics attributed to news channel ‘Mirror Now’ claiming the Indian government has banned animal sacrifice in Kashmir, is fake.

Mirror Now’s editor Faye D’Souza tweeted that the graphics were photoshopped.

The journalist whose photo and name can be spotted in the viral graphic is currently reporting on the floods in Kerala and not on Kashmir, Boom said.

Another fake message planted on social media alleged that a “Muslim Kashmiri policeman shot & killed five Indian CRPF personnel in a ‘blue on blue’ attack after they refused to let a pregnant woman by because she didn’t have the curfew pass. Things on edge since that attack.”

Both the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Jammu and Kashmir Police on Monday dismissed the messages of rift among security forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The malicious content of this tweet is absolutely baseless and untrue. As always, all the security forces of India are working with coordination and bonhomie. Patriotism and our tricolour lie at the core of our heart and existence, even when the color of our uniforms may differ,” the CRPF said in a tweet.

India Polls, Fake News, Millions
These news forwards, many of which contained fake news, surged during the election time as well. Pixabay

The Indian government is contemplating legal action against media outlets for reporting fabricated and baseless news relating to developments in Jammu and Kashmir.

Attributing “facts” to foreign news agencies, a few media outlets claimed that the Valley witnessed a large-scale protest and violence on Friday.

Earlier, prominent Pakistan news daily ‘Dawn’ went to the extent of claiming that over 10,000 people have gathered in Srinagar staging a protest over revocation of special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir.

Experts warn that Indian social media users need to exercise caution while sharing news as they may become victim to psychological warfare controlled by foreign powers.

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Similar information war was waged after the Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman’s plane crashed in Pakistani territory on February 27.

The hysteria unleashed on social media contributed to a shift in India’s focus from fighting cross-border terrorism to bringing the pilot back home, according to experts.

“In such a case when self-regulation becomes ineffective, it will be a good idea to come up with specific guidelines which should govern the behaviour and the acts done on social media during important moments of our national interest,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, had told IANS. (IANS)