Education in Kashmir has to be insulated from lockdowns and curfews, says the maverick who gave up midway degree in Engineering
Srinagar: A 29-year-old woman from Natipora in Srinagar has become only the second Kashmiri to be selected for an academic programme that is otherwise dominated by bureaucrats, politicians and consultants working closely with the government.
Sahreen Shameem, who went against the wishes of her parents in going about her career, has been offered a seat at the Master’s programme in Public Policy at the prestigious Oxford University in the UK.
Shameem opted to study Engineering in Malaysia after Class 12, instead of pursuing Medicine, which her parents “strictly” wanted her to do, she told Kashmir Reader.
After appearing in exams of the first semester of her engineering degree, Sahreen flew back to Kashmir due to financial constraints, and significantly also because of the fact that “I was not convinced that engineering was cut out for me.”
In the next few years, Sahreen switched from a Master’s degree in Economics to a job at an investment bank. But from there, too, her parents called her back, telling her that it “was not what Kashmiri girls do”.
She then began studying for a Masters in Arts, which she finally did complete.
But it was at a Noida-based IT company where Sahreen worked as a CSR professional, and before that at an NGO where she worked closely with tribal women, that she realised that she had to do something for Kashmir.
At the IT Company, she played a key role in enrolling 12,000 underprivileged children from Delhi-NCR in schools built by the company’s CSR wing, which fetched it the best CSR Award that year, Shameem told Kashmir Reader.
It was a big and unprecedented achievement for the company. Shameem was promoted as a reward.
As for her stint at the NGO, she recalls living with tribal women who had to suffer both social stigma and the oppressions of patriarchy, which, Shameem says, had inhibited their expression in the traditional art forms they practised.
“But we changed the scenario for them. The women later returned to their art forms.” More importantly, the stint at the NGO made her recollect “what had happened to me in Kashmir”.
She still remembers how she was stopped from having “opinions” by the male members of her family when she was a child, even though every woman in her family was working.
“I was told not to argue with boys at the tuition centre,” she says.
Shameem feels that it is not just patriarchy but also the political distress in Kashmir which has affected lives and badly hit education.
Shameem thought of opening a community school in Kashmir, to enrol first-generation learners, but soon realised that she did not have the capital to build one.
She hopes that her selection at Oxford will enable her to work on the education policy in Kashmir, “because I realise that you cannot have the same education policy (in Kashmir), which you have in Delhi or any other part of the country, because they have normal circumstances while we don’t,” she says.
“We remain shut for half of the academic year because of the curfews. If you want to have curfews, have them, but it should not be at the cost of the students. My idea is that the way you run masjids during curfews and lockdowns, schools should also be run in the same way at the community level,” she says.
Shameem says that there is a dire need to customise the education policy in Kashmir in a way that makes education mandatory during lockdowns.
“The way businesses are reopening despite the coronavirus scare, because it is necessary for one’s livelihood, the same way we have to realise that education, no matter what happens in Kashmir, should be immune from political distress,” she says.
She suggests setting up community schools, which will cater to local students and have proper security, “which ensures that nobody would dare to harm the institutions”.
“Students are the future. If they don’t study now, how will they represent Kashmir tomorrow?” says the determined young woman.