“Imagine sending your children to a school occupied by soldiers. Imagine that the first person they saw at school was a man with a semi-automatic rifle, not their teacher. They would study near stored weapons, ammunition, and even detained prisoners. You would know that opposing forces might shoot at or bomb the school – now a military target. How could children learn in this atmosphere, and how could they stay safe?” asked an investigation report of Human Rights Watch, titled “ Protecting Yemen’s Students From Attack”.
According to the report, “that is what happened in Yemen during the 2011-2012 uprising, putting the lives of tens of thousands of students at risk.”
While going through this part of the report, I was reminded of the days of high violence in Kashmir when such a scene was a stark reality in the Valley. The question that confronts now is not that the soldiers have vacated the schools and the guns are out of sight of the school going children, it is: didn’t Kashmir lives of thousands of its children in the past over two decades. And, the related question is that: are our children safe from guns and ammunition.
Pause for a moment, and the answers that would be delivered would be something like this that Kashmir risked lives of its children three ways, child soldiers, guns in reality in their sight not just in books but in reality and the fear of the gun that has faded away from their lives. The civil society would also have to answer, have our children come out of that era and everything is peaceful around them and they can pursue their studies without any fear and can reach their homes safely. The answer is not a complete YES as yet.
The children of Kashmir were like soft toys, who would play in the parks dotted with flowers, the fragrance of which they carried home and they were the regular visitors, either with their families or school picnics to different parts of their land. For them, soldiers were military, which they rarely spotted. They were children who loved their land and their teachers were ideal for them. But when the school going children started saying that they don’t know where “ Lal Chowk is”. It was a student from one of the reputed schools in Sonwar telling a reporter in August 26 and he was a class VII student. The child or teenager was a student and did not fit into the definition of a child soldier by any remote stretch of imagination. There were soldiers deployed outside his schools, convoys of army and paramilitary forces would pass by the road leading to his school. He was forbidden by his parents not to venture out of his home after coming back from school. His talent was killed. The world view was hidden from him. It is just not a story of one child of Kashmir. Thousands of them had to undergo the same experience.
Even today, on the slightest sense of trouble, the parents tell children not to step outside. They have been made prisoners. Curious as the children are, they have started asking questions as to why shouldn’t they act and play like the normal children. There is something wrong. They have seen guns, grenades and IEDs. They know what an AK-47 is and what is the difference between a grenade explosion and sonic boom. Is this the culture or heritage that we have created for them.
The worst part of this whole episode is that the signs of normalcy that are measured by the arrival of tourists coming from far off places are still “outsiders” for them. That normalcy has not travelled to them, they are still prisoners of identity crisis which they have inherited from their parents or may be grandparents. Time is not far, when they would be asking : “ who are we”. Before they ask this question, the parents, teachers and civil society should join hands and make Kashmiri children to bloom in a way rest of the world is doing. There is no other option. Of course, the Kashmir situation is what it is. The Valley is still a conflict zone, but we have penetrated too much of conflict in their minds, that it is having worse consequences than any other infiltration – which in itself as acquired many interpretations.
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