Education in Kashmir at a Cross Roads?

Education in Kashmir at a Cross Roads?
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By Asif Ahmad Bhat

Education is a main pillar of a society and a society is defined by the quality of education that it imparts. Understanding education in Kashmir requires traversing and plumbing into its history. Kashmir is a culturally rich region with a distinct civilization and a long history.  In his book,  “Kashmir in Sunlight and Shade”  Tyndale Biscoe writes “Kashmir fortunately possesses an ancient history and a civilization more ancient than our own”. Kashmir has been the abode of Sanskrit learning and this small valley has produced masterpieces of history, poetry, romance, fable and philosophy. For centuries,  it was the humble abode of the greatest Sanskrit Scholars and Saivism, one of the great Indian religion has found some of its best teachers on the banks of Vitasta (The river Jhelum is called Vitasta in Rigveda).

Many historians believe that Islam came to Kashmir in 1305 with the Tatar invasion. But several argue that Islam came to Kashmir with the advent of Bulbul Shah in the second decade of the 14th century. P N K Bamzai writes in his book, “A History of Kashmir” that ‘Islam entered the valley in medieval period not as a result of foreign invasion, but by coup defeat from within the country’. During Muslim rule, the Persian language flourished in the valley due to the presence of Sadatas/ Sayedds who came to Kashmir from Central Asia for the purpose of proselytization. As a result, Persian became the court language. New maktabs (Arabic word for elementary school) and patshals (Hindi word for elementary school) were opened where Persian and Sanskrit were taught. However, education imparted in both Hindu (Patshal) and Muslim (Maktab) institution continued to be religious oriented. This is clearly visible in the writings of Tyndale Biscoe, who writes “The indigenous schools of Kashmir have always been in connection with the mosques, where the boys are taught to read Arabic so that they may be able to read the Koran, but not necessarily to understand it. Likewise the Brahmans have their schools, where Sanskrit is taught so that the boys may be able to read the sacred Hindu books.”

During the rule of Dogras, Kashmir was known outside chiefly for the despondency of its land and misery of its people. In his book,  Biscoe asserts: “Robert Thorp came Kashmir to shoot big game on the mountains, like many other British officers. But his heart soon softened and directed him to a more important matter- namely, the miseries of Kashmiris under incompetent government. Mohammedans peasants not only suffered terribly under Hindu officials but their very blood was sucked out of them. They were forced to pay taxes in kind which was half of the produce. This made farmer and his family to live on roots”. While it may be an exaggeration to state that peasants were forced to live on roots but it is true that state acted unsympathetically while collecting taxes.
The Dogra rulers particularly Gulab Singh and his successor Maharaja Ranbir Singh paid less attention towards education of their subjects. Maharaja Ranbir Singh instead of opening schools in his own state contributed a huge sum of sixty-two thousand and five hundred rupees for the establishment of the Punjab University. This means that Maharaja was not against the spread of education, but was against the education of his subjects. Of course, he introduced some measures toward the education of his subjects. But these measures were like drops of water in the sea. It is to be remembered that the educational institutions that existed prior to missionaries provided mainly preliminary instructions; therefore cannot be considered as institutions engaged in the promotion of general education in the modern sense.
In the field of Modern education, Kashmir was lagging behind in the subcontinent. It was only in the second half of the 19th century that modern education began to be imparted in Kashmir with the advent of Christian missionaries. Undoubtedly, there main aim was to spread Christianity and they believed that with the message of Christ, the sufferings of people could be lessened. But at the same time, they considered it their duty to educate the people and to help them in the redressal of grievances.

Initially, the mission of the CMS started with the medical work. The first medical missionary to visit Kashmir Dr.Elmslie arrived in Srinagar in 1864. In the beginning they faced stiff resistance from different quarters of the society for their alleged involvement in spreading Christianity in the valley under the garbs of modern education. However,  they continued their efforts against firm opposition and, with the passage of time, won the confidence of the people. It was these missionaries who made pioneering efforts to educate people of Kashmir on the pattern of European education. The proposal of the Christian missionaries to establish schools in Kashmir was approved by the C.M.S in London. The first western and modern boy’s school in Kashmir was founded in 1880 by Reverend J Hinton Knowles, founded as the Church Mission Society Boys School, it is now called the Tyndale Biscoe School, named after Tyndale Biscoe, a British missionary who became the school’s principal in 1891. Tyndale Biscoe is often credited with founding the modern education system in Kashmir, through western modernization and rejection of local tradition. Shafi Ahmad Qadri in his book,  “Biscoe in Kashmir”, writes “The opening of CMS School was a red-letter day in the recorded history of Kashmir, it brought a new era by imparting scientific education on modern lines”.

Initially, the fruits of the modern education were reaped by the children of Kashmiri pundits. The CMS School was, in fact monopolized by them. Muslims on the other hand, from the very beginning of English education, did not show much interest in it. There were so many factors responsible for this. One among the many was that the pundits possessed the economic means to acquire education while the Muslims were very poor. Their clergymen made them believe that by studying English they would become Christians. Majority of Muslim population in Kashmir comprised of artisans who were not enthusiastic about education.

The un-sympathetic attitude of teachers towards Muslim students in government schools, and the discriminatory policies of Dogra administration were the other causes of backwardness of the Muslims.

Moulvi Rasool Shah, popularly known as Sir Sayed of Kashmir realized that without modern education, Muslims would remain always backward. He wanted to promote education among Muslims. Like a medical practitioner he diagnosed the disease i.e. backwardness due to illiteracy, of the Muslim community and the medicine given by him was education based on modern scientific lines. His aim was to launch a crusade against the rigidity and conservative beliefs prevalent among the Muslims of Kashmir. To fulfill his aim, the Muslim Educational Movement was started in the nineties of last century. Peerzada Muhammad Ashraf in,  “ The Role of Christian Missionaries in the spread of Modern Education among the Muslims of Kashmir” (1885-1925) writes, “It was Moulvi Rasool Shah, who led the Muslims from darkness to light who used to distribute books free of cost to the poor and needy Muslim students. It was him that laid the foundation of Anjuman-i-Nasrat-ul-Islam by opening  a primary school in 1899 A.D which in 1905 was upgraded as a  high school- the fore-runner of present Islamiaya College”.
In 28th August 1975, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir established its own educational board (Jammu and Kashmir board of school education). In the 1980’s ,  the system of education in valley spread rapidly. Years of turmoil-1989, 2008, 2010 and 2016 clearly suggest that education in Kashmir has had to face tough trials and tests of time.

The 2016 unrest in Kashmir which broke out after the killing of Hizb Commander Burhan Wani, popularly known as ‘Poster Boy’ triggered protests across the Valley. Millions of students were unable to attend regular schools due to the constant state of unrest in the valley. The presence of heavy paramilitary forces and curfews resulted in the shutdown of schools. Thus the worst sufferers of this constant state of conflict were none but children, who have been confined to their homes and were denied access to education. In these testing times, the youth of Kashmir stepped in to educate the children of Kashmir in ‘Curfew Schools’ for free. In the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s death, the education sector was badly hit in Kashmir Valley. The recent announcement by Jammu and Kashmir government of mass promotion of students to next levels clearly indicates the sufferings of education in Kashmir.

Going by the literacy rate, which is the visible and computable indicator of education level, the Jammu and Kashmir state stands at bottom along with states like Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh.  Keeping in view the 2011 census, the state ranks 29 out of the 35 states and Union territories taken together. This gives us  a clear glimpse about the weakness of  the education system in the  valley. This has the potential to ruin our future generation. If education keeps on suffering as it is, Kashmir will surely die an intellectual death

The author is a Research Scholar at the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at bhatasif1122@gmail.com.

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