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Shopian school bus attack not the first in Kashmir, kids in Valley targeted since 2016

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25 schools were torched in the Valley soon after the encounter of Burhan Wani in 2016. A school bus was attacked by protesters on 1 April as well.

New Delhi: The latest attack on a school bus in Kashmir has shocked the public, but the school itself says that it had sensed such an attack was likely since the 2016 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani which triggered a fresh wave of violence in the Valley.

On Wednesday, the school bus ferrying 40 children to the Rainbow International School in Shopian came under attack from protesters, severely injuring 10-year-old Rehan Goursi, a student of class 2. Goursi was hit in the head by stones, leaving him lying in a pool of blood.

The bus driver, Javaid Ahmed Wani recounted: “I had left to pick up students at 8.30 am. At Narpora, from a small hill on the right, we were hit with stones at around 9.30. None of us could make sense of things as students started screaming and crying. I just drove away to school without looking back.”

The incident has been widely condemned across the Valley, including by the government, opposition parties, as well as the separatist Hurriyat Conference.

Not the first incident

“We have been extremely worried since several schools were burnt across south Kashmir,” Sajad Ahmed, founder and principal of the school, told ThePrint, referring to the 2016 incidents when unknown arsonists set fire to about 25 schools.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court had, at the time, told the government to step in and protect schools. Recently, the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government approved the allotment of 20,000 security guards for schools across the Valley.

But the incident in Shopian isn’t even the first attack on a school bus in the Valley — on 1 April this year, protesters had also attacked a bus ferrying children from the Dolphin International School in Pulwama, the school has confirmed to ThePrint. The mob was protesting against the killing of 20 people, including 13 militants, three armed forces personnel and four civilians, in different encounters in south Kashmir, on that very day.

Daily dodge

Dolphin International School founder Mohammad Farooq Fazli said schools were more vulnerable in areas like Pulwama and Shopian.

“Children come from a 20 km radius around our school. We have to come up with a different policy for their protection every day, because we don’t know what will happen and when. We have to change the bus routes every day,” Fazli said.

Rainbow International’s Ahmed added: “Last year, we put in a software through which parents could check the exact status of whether the child was in or out of the school. When a student reaches school, parents get an SMS alert, and when they leave from school in the bus, another alert is sent to ensure parents have a sense of security while they send children to school.”

Some schools like the R.P. Public School in Srinagar have installed CCTV cameras in their campuses as well as their buses.

Fazli said for him, the stress of the working day only ends when he gets confirmation from the last parent on his list that the child has reached home.

“It is not like you know the safe route. The disturbance keeps escalating from area to area. Sometimes, parents call us and demand that their children should be sent via a different route than expected,” he said.

The ‘politicisation’ of education

The biggest decision for the schools is whether to keep the school open or not. The Dolphin International School, for example, has been closed for four days due to local unrest.

Usually, government authorities and the shutdown calls by the Hurriyat Conference decide the working days of schools and college, but the schools also take calls based on daily developments.

“We don’t understand the conspiracy around the politicisation of school education. The sole aim of the miscreants is to disrupt the education of children. It is vicious for them to involve innocent children into it,” said Sameena, whose son studies at the Delhi Public School (DPS) in Srinagar, the site of an encounter in 2017 in which two militants and three soldiers were killed.

Politicisation is also the reason Fazli cites for not making an issue of the attack on the Dolphin school bus. “I don’t want any politicisation of schools. Kids on the bus had minor injuries,” he said when asked why he didn’t highlight the incident.

Ahmed’s Rainbow has 1,800 enrolled students, and for their sake, he said, he would keep his school open as long as possible.

“Not every parent has the avenues to send children to bigger schools in safe localities. My mission is to impart education to those who want to aim for a better future. There are challenges, but the attack should not bring our morale down,” he said.

“I have spoken to the parents and they have shown courage. Parents will continue sending their children to schools.”

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