20 years later, school remains under army occupation in Zachaldara

Kupwara: The presence of the army inside a school premises in Zachaldara in Handwara has badly affected the studies of students here. It has been 20 years now, but the efforts of school authorities and the education department to get the building vacated have proved futile.
According to local residents, army occupied the Government High School building in Zachaldara in 1996, and till date the occupation continues. The army’s 22 Rashtriya Rifles unit has not only occupied the two-room office of the Headmaster but also taken eight kanals of school land under its control by fencing it off with concertina wire. “Many efforts were made to get the school premises vacated but we did not succeed,” a local resident told Kashmir Reader.
In 1999, the education department upgraded this school to Higher Secondary level and it became the first and only such institute in tehsil Zachaldara. However, nothing could be done to convince army to leave the premises.
It was learnt that the school management approached the authorities many times and even deputy commissioners and senior police officers visited the area from time to time but could do nothing. Army has raised six tin sheds in the school compound while the land occupied by it too has been fenced.
Being the only Higher Secondary school in Zachaldara, it is the first preference of parents of girl students. However, the presence of army in the school compound is a big deterrent. Most parents of girl students prefer to send their daughters somewhere else to keep them away from the constant gaze of army men. The student roll in the school is 350 while the intake capacity is much more.
“One of our school buildings and half of the ground is under army occupation. We can’t read, we can’t play or walk freely in and around the school area. Some days ago, army men were celebrating Holi and beating drums when we were studying in our classes,” one of the students told Kashmir Reader on conditions of anonymity. He added that students staged many protests in the past against the army presence in the school but nothing changed.
A female student, while talking to Kashmir Reader, alleged that army men have ‘installed hidden cameras around their camp’ and they were watching every movement of the students. “We can’t participate in games or in other physical programmes for obvious reasons,” she said, adding “there are many female staffers and they too can’t move freely in the school premises.”
An official of the school told Kashmir Reader that one of the old buildings was demolished recently following orders from the higher authorities. “Now we are not only short of space but the remaining part of the ground too has been filled with debris. Where are students and staff supposed to go,” he asked.
Chief Education Officer (CEO) Kupwara Farooq Ahmad Dar confirmed to Kashmir Reader that the army had occupied one of the school buildings and its ground in Zachaldara, Handwara, about 20 years ago. Dar expressed his helplessness in getting the building vacated. “We approached everybody from civil administration to the army top brass but they do not want to vacate the building.”
Director School Education, Kashmir, could not be contacted as his mobile phone was switched off till this story was filed.
However, Lt Col NN Joshi, the army’s Srinagar-based spokesperson told Kashmir Reader that the army had occupied some ‘other state land’, not the school. “According to my information, we have not occupied the school premises,” he said.