Srinagar: “Why do I have to miss my medical coaching classes if it is Pakistan that has killed security forces in Pulwama?” asks 14-year-old Iqra Yusuf, a Class XI student. “How will I become a doctor like this?”
Yusuf, who is pursuing her medical coaching at Kashmir Institute of Excellence, a private institute in Hyderpora, which is known as the tuition hub of Srinagar for its scores of institutes.
But frequent curfews and bandhs over the past few years have forced Yusuf to miss class most days of the week.
The three years since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016 have seen a resurgence of tension in Kashmir, which battled years of militancy in the 1980s and 1990s.
The southern areas of the Valley have spawned a new generation of local militants, and encounters between security personnel and terrorists have become a regular affair.
Amid all this, there is resentment among locals about the challenges mounted to Article 35A and Article 370 — which spell out special concessions for Jammu & Kashmir as part of an agreement for its accession to India — in the Supreme Court.
The situation has been all the more tense since the 14 February terror attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama.
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Claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the attack was carried out by a Kashmiri youth, a fact that has led to the harassment of Kashmiris in other parts of the country. The ensuing chaos spawned a fresh wave of shutdowns in Kashmir, where separatist-called bandhs and official curfews have become a part of day-to-day life.
“I go to attend classes one day and five days I sit at home,” Yusuf told ThePrint outside her coaching institute Monday. “This has become my routine since the past fortnight. My parents remain tense till I return home. How can I study like this?”
Helpless in ‘paradise’
While the harassment of Kashmiris in other parts of the country made quite a few headlines in the wake of the Pulwama strike, life has not been easy for students in Srinagar either.
The constant presence of security personnel, they say, creates a sense of oppression.
Sayed Hussain, a Class XI student of Sir Syed Memorial Higher Secondary School in Parray Pora, said he couldn’t concentrate on his studies because of what is happening around him.
“There is police all around,” he said. “While my friends and I were on our way to our coaching centre the other day, the security forces stopped us for questioning. What is our fault? Why do they look at us so suspiciously?”
Husain’s friend Kaish Yaseen, a student of Fayaz Educational Institute in Nowgam, is more vocal. “I want freedom from all this,” he said.
“I don’t want to see so many police personnel all the time on the roads. We always feel suppressed. Some of my friends joined the stone-pelters after dropping out of school. They did not have to, but could not cope with all this,” he added.
Professor Rakesh Sehgal, the director of the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, insisted that all is generally well at the government-funded college despite the situation beyond the campus.
“Whatever is going on outside the campus does not affect the classes here as 80 per cent of the over 3,000 students studying in NIT Srinagar are hostellers,” he told ThePrint.
However, problems arise when the situation deteriorates while the students are away on vacation, as happened after the 14 February attack.
NIT was to open for classes on 28 February, but the vacation has now been extended amid safety concerns among students.
“We were getting e-mails and calls by the dozen every day from anxious students asking us if it was safe to return,” Sehgal said.
“We have told our students that if they are apprehensive because of what is happening in Kashmir, they can stay back for some more time,” he added.
Business suffers too
Visitors at the Hyderpora branch of Target PMT, a Delhi-based private coaching institute, are met with the sight of several empty classrooms.
Mansoor Ahmed Mattoo, the Srinagar head of the coaching institute, said many of their students from other districts had returned home “because of the uncertainty prevailing in the city”.
Of the 2,500 students enrolled for medical coaching at the institute, he added, only about 60 per cent were currently attending classes.
Mattoo said the institute won’t be able to ask even these students for the second installment of fees because they had not been able to complete the syllabus.
Meanwhile, the institute has to shell out Rs 1 lakh per month as rent for each room as it is located in one of the most expensive pieces of real estate, Mattoo added.
“Teachers are also humans,” he told ThePrint. “Because of so much happening around them, they could not compose themselves. How are they going to teach?
“You can sense the fear,” he said. “Though I don’t see a war happening, but there will be a tougher time for Kashmiris. The economy has taken a hit. Most businesses have not been able to pay their EMIs,” Mattoo added.
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