Kashmir is at once known for her incredible natural beauty and endless conflict and violence. Between these two big pictures, the sad situation of students in Kashmir is hidden. Here I am going to tell you about the agony of a long-suffering batch of students among whom I am one.
In September 2014, a different kind of catastrophe fell upon the conflict-torn valley in the form of floods that swept away everything that came in their way. They destroyed residential houses, schools, hospitals, and government offices. That year we were in the twelfth standard, considered to be a critical stage in the life of every student. We were preparing well for the final exams scheduled to be held in the month of October. The floods wreaked their havoc in September. Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister at the time, announced the postponement of our exams till March 2015. Just like that, we lost six months of our academic career. Helplessly, we appeared in the exams in March. Soon after that we got admission in colleges for Bachelors programs. Unfortunately, the semester system was introduced the same year in J&K colleges, which turned out to be a total mess and failure in Kashmir. However, our first semester examination was held on time in December 2015.
In 2016, we were in the 2nd semester and had to appear in the exams in July. But who doesn’t know what happened then in Kashmir. Public unrest and violence spread everywhere after the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani and his two comrades. Mobile and internet connectivity was immediately blocked in the entire valley, which has always been the first thing that the government does to deal with a “situation”. People flooded out on the streets and protested everywhere, chanting freedom slogans. Consequently, Kashmir remained shut for six months and our exams were once again delayed. They were eventually held in 2017. Regardless of the small incidents of conflict witnessed in 2017, exams were thankfully held on time that year. The University of Kashmir, after realising our loss, took pity on us and conducted the exams for 5th & 6th semesters jointly in July 2018. Hence the degree of three years took almost four years to complete. And there ended the journey of our college life.
In October 2018, we appeared in the Kashmir University entrance test for Masters programme. Many of us qualified the exam with flying colours. After completing all the admission formalities, we joined the university on 6th November. The classes began but ended after just 2 months, and winter vacations were announced. Class work was resumed in March 2019 and our first semester exams were held in July 2019. The university started our second semester without wasting any time. We attended the classes with great zeal and enthusiasm. But hardly did we know that the joy and spirit would be short-lived. The shadows of violence once again befell on the valley with the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, which gave Jammu and Kashmir a “special status”. Kashmir once again witnessed an unprecedented lockdown. Restrictions were put on the movement of civilians, communication was completely blocked, and everything came to a halt. Educational institutions were closed for seven months. Our second semester was resurrected in the month of February 2020, bringing forth a smile on our faces after a despondency of seven grim months.
This joy, too, was short-lived. A pall of gloom descended once more upon us with the dreadful news of Covid-19. In March, the coronavirus entered Kashmir valley and the number of positive cases began rising by the day. The government again announced a strict lockdown and closed down all educational institutions and public activities.
So, we are stuck in the same semester that we were in in July 2019. I wonder what will happen to our next two semesters. Students who might have been our batchmates in 2014 in regions outside the valley and across the world must have completed their Masters degrees and may have achieved success in competitive exams as well. The 2014 floods left us in a pool of misfortune in which we are still sinking. A question keeps popping up in my mind: Should we call ourselves unfortunate or extraordinary? Certianly our spirits are so hardened that we have still not lost hope of completing our Masters degree. We believe that this, too, shall pass. Hoping against hope, I conclude with this Urdu verse: “Hai Shouq e Safr Aisa Ki Ek Umer Se Humne / Manzil Bhi Na Paayi Rasta Bhi Na Badla.”
The writer is pursuing Masters in English Literature at University of Kashmir.