Education has a cultural value in Kashmiri society. The modern education became rapidly acceptable in 20th century in the valley and before that the state has been an acknowledged seat of spiritual and scientific knowledge over a long period of time in medieval period and thereafter. There is evidence to corroborate existence of a famous learning centre at Sharda Peeth (now in PoK) in the same league as Nalanda or Takshila. And this era was once again in making after 1947 when universal access and expansion became a state policy. And education again got embedded and became part of indispensible culture.
Circa 2016, schools and colleges remain shut for most of the academic session and as there is no classroom teaching/learning authorities order mass promotion of students to next class. With hopes of education being spared from protest calendars gaining ground last fall, this year revival of normal educational activities was expected by many. But on the contrary, the scenario seems to have gone from bad to worse, with some students in uniform and with bags hanging from their shoulders joining stone pelting on security forces.
Experts say that it is just an orchestrated scenario. The reality is education remains the most sought after commodity by the people of the valley. A couple of incidents involving killing of school children in early 2000 during peak time militancy had led to such a resentment and backlash from the parents and society that the militants lost all support in the capital city of Srinagar and couldn’t be seen in public for many years. People here know that their individual socio-economic progress is very much dependent on education. The fact that education is free here from K-PhD has made all levels of education easily accessible. And education is of course a status symbol and a career statement with several success stories emerging every time from the troubled vale despite odds.
So why that is despite being a robust social enterprise, education is failing to help itself for the last two years at least. Well Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan would win a Nobel Prize but not study in her native place explains it to an extent, the radicalization is overbearing. But still a greater reason is failure of education system in the state to become protector and promoter of its economy. All developed societies design education systems to protect their economic strengths and areas. But as in most parts of India, in Kashmir too, in name of uniformity, local need of skill sets in areas like tourism, horticulture, herbal medicine, water milling, or forestry coupled with absence of local icons and heritage from school curricula is not providing deep connect between education and local economy . As a result, there isn’t much integration of education with real world. So, we exist despite education, howsoever, minority view may be, sometimes becomes heroic at times.
Nonetheless, the people of Kashmir know that without good education, their story will fade away slowly, so hopefully they will collectively protect and flourish its culture of education as ever before.