By Dr Sohail Nasti
While violence, killings, strikes, curfews and protests are nothing new in Kashmir, as for the last almost three decades it has become a routine in the Valley, the onslaught on education is something which is a real cause of concern. In the battle between the government and the separatists, education and the young children have become a real causality.
Last year , educational institutions remained closed right from July upto November due to strikes called by the separatists and the curfew imposed by the government. That time, the government accused separatists of playing with the future of students and announced the exam dates despite boycott calls from the separatists. I don’t want to go into this debate as to who was right or who was wrong then. But, that time for the government, opening of educational institutions was a sign of ‘normalcy’ and to some extent they succeeded in their mission as people too were supportive of the idea.
When separatists were adamant on their shutdown calendars at the peak of unrest last year, saying that education can wait and targeted the government for firing pellets on young children, the government was hell bent on opening the educational institutions in an atmosphere where the streets were patrolled by the gun yielding government forces and the stone hurling youth. However, this year, the same government is doing the reverse. The student protests which erupted last month after a raid by government forces on a college in Pulwama, have spread to every nook and corner of the Valley. Not a day passes without the news of students coming on roads and clashing with forces. Hundreds of students as well as policemen have been injured in these clashes which refuse to end. Unfortunately, the response of the government has been to use force to quell the protests. This has aggravated the situation to an extent that if immediate steps aren’t taken, the situation could go out of hand.
Using force and closing down the educational institutions to normalize the situation is no answer to this problem. Student protest is a global phenomenon and at this age , the anger and rage can never be cooled down by force. The phenomenon of students becoming “rebels” for various reasons started appearing internationally during the 1960s, when protesting students created serious disruptions in societies and shook political systems globally in countries as diverse as Japan, France, Mexico, West Germany, Italy, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, and the US. The magnitude of these movements in terms of global expansion is one of their most fundamental and predominant characteristics. Fifty Six countries and governments had to face thousands of students acting as rebels.
Unfortunately, in our state, it seems the government has no plan to engage with the students to pacify the situation. Arrests and use of force cannot be a substitute for dialogue. College managements should be held accountable when things go wrong and good relations collapse.
Student activism has been barred in the Valley and even Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU) was banned some seven or eight years back. The authorities could have negotiated rules governing protests with student leadership. Again ,the onus lies on the government as how to allow student activism in Kashmir and engage and keep the channels of communication with protesting students and their leaders.
At places like Kashmir, where entire generations have born and grown up in conflict, people are used to being pumped up all the time with abnormally high levels of adrenaline in bloodstream, keeping them always in hyper-active mode. This is why even the ordinary and mundane affairs attract extraordinarily high amount of politicking here. It is high time the government leaves its arrogance and engages the students in a positive dialogue. The government must also release all the students arrested during the period and withdraw all the cases against them before the dialogue could happen. Worldwide students want better representation of their views throughout their institutional structures and are willing to engage positively and constructively to this end. Instead of seeking to suppress this critical engagement with the key issues of our time, authorities should welcome and encourage their input. Isn’t that what the institutions were founded to do?
—The author is the Founder of an International humanitarian organization, Mother Helpage Worldwide, and a global think tank organization, Consortium for Global Peace. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)