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Army’s education push in Kashmir: Schools for kids with mental disabilities, ‘Super 50’ coaching

Besides its focus on anti-terror operations, the Army is boosting education, skilling, sports and culture in Kashmir under its Sadbhavana Project.

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Srinagar/Baramulla: In north Kashmir’s Baramulla, about 75 children with mental disabilities and their parents are excited about a brand new school that has come up in the middle of the town, with all facilities to cater to their unique requirements.

In another area of north Kashmir, 21 girl students belonging to different regions of the Union territory — as well as Ladakh — along with 30 boys, are studying within a secure compound to fulfil their dream of becoming doctors, as they undergo coaching classes for the next NEET.

A different bunch of students is preparing for engineering classes in the southern parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

A whole lot of students are also slowly returning to schools in small towns after the Covid restrictions, to learn on digital tablets, while others are undergoing skills development courses focused on embroidery, hospitality, among others.

The link between all these initiatives is the Army and its Sadbhavana (goodwill) Project, which began in the late 1990s to create a link with the civilian population.

While the Army is involved in counter-terrorism operations on a daily basis, it’s also focussing big on providing education opportunities to students of J&K and Ladakh.

“Education has been a key focus area. We want to provide as many opportunities to young children as possible. Besides running a number of initiatives in Jammu and Kashmir itself, we are also helping students to go out and study in other parts of the country,” Lt Gen. D.P. Pandey, commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, told ThePrint.

Parivaar School in Baramulla. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint
Parivaar School in Baramulla | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint

The Northern Command currently runs about 47 Army Goodwill Schools, 27 of which are in the Kashmir region. The schools are till Class 12 and thousands of students study here at a nominal fee. While teachers are all independent civilians, the Army takes care of the administrative matters.

Inspired by the famous ‘Super 30’ initiative by Anand Kumar in Bihar, the Army also runs ‘Super 50’ and ‘Super 30’ for engineering and medical aspirants, respectively. From this year, girls students have also been enrolled for medical coaching, which is provided free of cost for all, including lodging and food.

Moreover, the new Baramulla school has a capacity to teach 150 children with disabilities, with 75 currently on the roll. While the classes were earlier being held in an Army complex, as more and more children joined, the Army decided to set up a complete school with the support of NGOs.

A classroom at Parivaar School in Baramulla. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint
A classroom at Parivaar School in Baramulla | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint

“The Army has been really helpful. I could never imagine such a school here. This school will be a blessing for all specially-abled children who are often seen as a burden by society,” said Sabiya Farooq, principal of Parivaar School in Baramulla.

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Project Sadbhavana undergoes change

This increased collaboration between NGOs and Army took place during the tenure of former 15 Corps commander and current Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), Lt Gen. B.S. Raju.

All these initiatives have been taken under the Sadbhavana project.

“Operation Sadbhavana (goodwill) is an unique humane initiative undertaken by the Indian Army in the state of Jammu & Kashmir to address aspirations of people affected by scrooge (sic) of terrorism, sponsored and abetted by Pakistan,” said the project description on the Army’s website.

Army officers explained that the mission was necessitated by terror threat in far-flung areas that made development projects a challenge, and hence, a few infrastructure projects were executed based on need of the common person.

A women empowerment centre in Kashmir. | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint
A women empowerment centre in Kashmir | Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint

The Army Goodwill Schools were a flagship effort at the time to fill the gap created by burning and closing of schools by the terror masters, they said.

“Now, with the return of normalcy and well-established and robust civil administration, these tasks are being carried out by civil administration. Army activities are more on education, skilling, sports and culture,” a senior officer in-charge of the projects said. 

“The reaction of the radicals and the terror proxies to these efforts validate them as effective means against radicalisation. Interestingly, the terror organisations have accused Indian Army of using ‘soft power’ to counter them, this must be singular case in the world where a terror organisation has accused the state forces of using ‘soft power’. We take that as a compliment,” the officer said.

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Focus on education

Speaking about the focus on education, the officer said the Army runs 27 schools in Kashmir, and in addition, has CSR-based initiatives like the Super 50 and Super 30 coaching programmes.

These programmes have empowered the youth of the Valley and their families to compete with bright students from across the country in the entrance exams to the IITs, and NEET.

Lt Gen. Pandey said the Army’s focus remains on empowering youth and women from all sections of the Kashmiri society. “And I can say with a sense of achievement that it has contributed a lot in improving the lives of people of Kashmir,” he said.

Army Goodwill school, Boniyar. | Photo: Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint
Army Goodwill school, Boniyar | Photo: Photo: Urjita Bhardwaj/ThePrint

“Approximately 10,000-plus students are getting quality education in the Army Goodwill Schools in Kashmir and more than 600 teachers and staff are employed in these schools. This year a student of AGS Wazur has stood 12th in the entire UT,” he said.

“Our boys and girls from AGS have won national/international medals in sports and made the UT and the country proud. In addition to that, we have successfully established 50 youth centres and women empowerment centres promoting skill development at various levels,” the commander added.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: J-K: Social activists hold outreach program to connect with youth in Srinagar


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