It is almost four months since the > unrest in Kashmir began following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani. Protests, intermittent violence and > long stretches of curfew have continued to put normal life on hold. Delegations of civil society representatives as well as politicians have attempted to reach out to separatists and find a way to bring calm to the streets, but to little avail. In fact, the opposite is happening with increasing mindless arson attacks on schools over the past two months. By one count, 27 > schools, most of them government-run , have been set afire so far in the Valley over this period. No one has yet claimed responsibility for these attacks. The government has blamed the separatists for encouraging the arson. In turn, the separatists charge the administration of failing to protect the schools. Amidst all this blame-shifting, it is disturbing that separatist leaders such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani have not condemned the acts of violence outright. Their equivocation must be called out, even as the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has directed the government to reopen all the schools despite the separatists’ shutdown call.
It is against this backdrop, of life thrown out of gear and specific targeting of school buildings, that students have been rattled by the government’s plan to conduct State Board examinations in the second half of November. The government needs to assure them of adequate security to address their anxieties. The situation is reminiscent of the early 1990s. Hundreds of schools had been targeted then. Disrupting the school calendar is one of the oldest tricks in the insurgents’ playbook. It sends out the signal that the administration is not in full control. And it heightens anxiety among the local population that their children’s life chances are doubtful, thereby reinforcing popular disaffection and alienation. However, the occasional occupation of school buildings by the security forces also makes them a symbol of the state, and a soft target for militants. The government must abandon the practice of using schools to solve logistical problems. Moreover, while the State government focusses on getting students back to school, to be successful this effort must be embedded in a purposeful, urgent plan to return normalcy to the State, especially south Kashmir that has been the epicentre of the protests and violence. The disruption in the academic calendar in the Valley is an outcome of the prevailing unrest. Resumption of the rhythms of normal life is essential to end this disruption. Something has to give. The people of Kashmir need a break from this long and tragic season of protests, shutdowns and curfew.