The Crisis in Kashmir Could Upend Education for Millions of Children
“Kashmir has been turned into an open-air prison.”
The Indian government dissolved Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on Aug. 4, stripping the state of Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous governing status, which was granted in 1957 to ease tensions with neighboring Pakistan.
The move was followed by the deployment of thousands of troops to the already heavily militarized state to quell potential dissent. The government also cut off internet access, put politicians under house arrest, and shut down schools. The lockdown has prevented people from receiving medical help, contacting family members, and getting basic information, the Guardian reports.
The lockdown comes amid rising violence against Muslims in India. Politicial leaders fear that sectarian violence could break out in Kashmir, which is the country’s only Muslim-majority state.
Human rights organizations watching the events unfold over the past week have urged restraint and the restoration of human rights.
“The government has a responsibility to ensure security in Kashmir, but that means respecting the human rights of everyone, including protesters,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “The government got off to a bad start by detaining political leaders, banning public meetings, and shutting down the internet.”
Everyday citizens, meanwhile, fear that the situation could devolve into armed conflict.
"It’s the fourth day and I don't have any contact with my family back home,” Khalid Bashir, a college student based in New Delhi, who is from Kashmir, told Global Citizen over email. “Kashmir has been turned into an open-air prison. I fear for my family and millions of Kashmiris, as this crackdown seems to have a genocidal intent."
While there have been no reports of genocide, many regional experts have warned about potential violence, according to Vox. The country’s leading opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party, echoed these concerns about national security.
National integration isn’t furthered by unilaterally tearing apart J&K, imprisoning elected representatives and violating our Constitution. This nation is made by its people, not plots of land.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 6, 2019
This abuse of executive power has grave implications for our national security.
The instability could extensively disrupt the education of millions of children, leaving them without places to learn for an indefinite period of time, and creating a climate of fear that could weaken learning standards.
Even before the latest developments, Kashmir’s education system has been precarious, and children have faced barriers to a quality education, according to the Borgen Institute.
The decades-long conflict in the state has led to constant school closures, attacks on schools, and assaults on students, according to the US State Department.
In 2016 alone, more than 300 schools were closed due to military skirmishes.
These shutdowns have a direct impact on the quality of education in the area. In 2016, schools were open for only an average of four months out of the year.
More broadly, the number of students per classroom has significantly grown in recent years, sanitation systems in schools have worsened, and remaining schools have become more exposed to the impacts of armed conflict, according to Relief International.
Schools that are repeatedly shut down also face declining teacher accountability standards and reduced curriculums, Relief International notes.
The ongoing conflict has had a significant impact on the mental health of students who are exposed to regular violence and live in an atmosphere of fear. To make matters worse, most schools do not have the resources to provide mental health services.
Girls, in particular, have been disproportionately affected by the general decline in the education system. Because of the region’s militarization, sexual assault is rampant, according to the Borgen Institute, which motivates families to keep girls at home.
Kashmir has one of the lowest literacy rates for women in India, stemming from the cultural tendency to prioritize the education of boys over girls.
The state has been a contentious flashpoint between India and Pakistan ever since the partition of 1947, when the modern versions of the two countries were formed and Kashmir was divided between the two. Four wars have since been fought over the territory, and political violence has been a hallmark of life there, according to Vox.
Earlier this year, a suicide bomber from a group in Pakistan killed 40 Indian soldiers in Kashmir. The Indian government responded by sending fighter planes across the border for the first time in more than 40 years.
These events happen in the context of decades of escalating retaliations, fanning hostilities and stoking greater conflicts. They also lead to lockdowns and suspensions of daily life that deepen the flaws of Kashmir's education system. Although everyone suffers when violence breaks out, the children of Kashmir often stand to lose the most.