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Education In Kashmir Has Been Disrupted, Who’s To Blame?

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

When we talk about Kashmir, conflict inevitably comes up. It affects every aspect of Kashmir, including education. With countless and incessant shutdowns, curfews, restrictions, and communication blockades, getting a proper education is as uncertain as it can be. Whether one comes from a city or a village, attends public schools or government schools, getting a quality education anywhere in Kashmir is a challenge in itself.

Representational Image. Credits: Tasnim News Agency

Back in 2010, when I was twelve, Kashmir was ravelled with discontent, and the schools were shut down. I remember feeling elated about the schools getting closed, and as a 12-year-old, I didn’t understand the depth of the situation. Little did I know, my days of jolly were going to be replaced by something else.

Trauma and unadulterated terror, fear engulfed me as I saw the military gear around our houses, the screams of protests and newspapers soaked with news of the innumerable deaths every other day. But for me, it was the news of the death of a 9-year-old kid that compelled me to put down the newspaper and shut down the news channels on my TV.

There was a constant fear of what will happen next. Schools, especially, would immediately open if there was some relief. Sometimes, the separatists would issue calls for strikes till mid-day, and then the schools would open at noon or sometimes even on Sundays.

However, the tribulations didn’t end there. Our Urdu teacher would often tell us that she wanted to complete the syllabus as quickly as possible because no one knew what would happen in Kashmir next. When I was in my 12th standard, an extremely important year for any student, I realized how much we, the students, suffer.

After the death of Burhan Wani on 8th July 2016, everything was shut down indefinitely. This included the schools as well as the tuition centres. A curfew followed it for more than 50 days and a shutdown for several more months. We had no means to study, and with no internet, our syllabus was bound to remain completed.

The ray of hope was when the teachers of the valley decided to teach any student in their vicinity. We left our houses, fearful, and walked kilometres on roads lined with soldiers to reach the teachers’ homes. Our tuitions received several threats, asking them to shut down their functioning. Out there on the road, my cousin and I were vulnerable, afraid of what could possibly happen on the deserted roads, where only army convoys and ambulances were on the move. Despite numerous protests, our exams were held on time in November, at examination centres heavily guarded by police and CRPF.

Security personnel guard a college as students enter to take secondary school exams in Baramulla town in Kashmir on November 14, 2016. Credits: IANS

In my first year of a girls’ college in Srinagar, fresh after the 2016 unrest had ended, the incidents of violence didn’t stop. I remember quite clearly, two events when teachers came running down to our classes, breathless, asking us to leave because protests had broken out outside our college. There was chaos everywhere, with every girl running to get out of the college before anything serious happens.

I remember seeing a boy with stone infiltrating our college campus while trying to hide from the police. This ordeal continues with my sisters, who share the same fate. When my youngest sister was in her tenth standard in 2019, Article 370 was revoked, and the same cycle of unrest continued. Complete communication blockade disconnected her from her studies, and just like me, when she went to give her 10th standard examination, it was in the same militarised examination centres.

As I look back at my journey, or that of my sisters, of completing basic high school education, as a Kashmiri, it wasn’t essentially hard, but it wasn’t definitely normal. When my school bus would be stopped at a random checkpoint, my heart would always beat faster in anticipation of something worse.

When going to tuitions on Fridays and getting caught in the midst of stone-pelting, I would escape with my fingers crossed, hoping that nothing bad would happen. When I saw some boys with stones within my college compound, I was prepared to see the worst.

I have grown up imagining the worst scenarios and made plans on how to protect myself and my sisters if anything untoward happened. But in real life, the conflict is so normalized that it has become part and parcel of our daily routines. We have learned to pick it up and move on despite the fear that inundates our hearts. I was lucky enough that I didn’t let this fear hinder my education, but, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about every other Kashmiri girl.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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