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Where Does Education In Kashmir Stand Amidst 315 Internet Shutdowns?

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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.

Kashmir is a beautiful valley well known for its culture, history and political controversies. Newly working here towards the upliftment of education in the valley, the first thing I observed was the presence of the Indian Army. Does that have any effect on education in the valley?

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

While roaming around, I came across a little girl about eight years old who would have been in class 1 if there were no pandemic. As I was an outsider to the locality, she was a bit shy. But, slowly, she opened up to me. We discussed her teachers and her studies, to which she said she loves reciting poems and sketching with crayons. The little girl remembers when school meant playing with her friends, laughing, shouting and running around.

Her aunt said the internet had been patchy, and curfews have been imposed since July 2016. First, all educational institutes were shut down, and because of internet cuts, the source of e-education was also restricted. Then, abrogation of Article 370 happened where the central government revoked the article, which gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir, on August 5, 2019, and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories.

Since then, the administration has formulated a new definition of domicile for Jammu & Kashmir. And in the following year, Covid-19 hit the country. Thus, there have been multiple reasons for influencing girls’ education in the valley.

While looking for a place to live during my initial days, I came across many women enrolled in doctoral programs, completing their masters or preparing for civil services. Many were studying in central universities throughout the nation. But this is a small picture. The literacy rate of Jammu & Kashmir is 68.74% (census 2011), and it is among one of the educationally backward regions of India. The male literacy rate stands at 78.26%, and the female literacy rate is just 58.01%, showing a wide gap of 20.25%.

The girl’s aunt was in the first year of her undergraduate degree at Girls Degree College, Srinagar when the valley started facing massive internet cuts. All channels of communication were barred. Her life suddenly came to a standstill. There were no online education means during those days, unlike the efforts to digitize education during the pandemic.

According to her, even online education didn’t do any justice to children affected by the pandemic. Children of Kashmir do not have any means of online education, nor do they have any specific provision when it comes to government schools. She mentioned that people mostly prefer private schools to government schools in Kashmir, as they are better equipped in terms of staff, facilities, and education.

She stated that after the pandemic, locals waited some months for the pandemic to end, but after six to eight months, hope was lost. In addition to that, many school dropouts happened where locals thought their children were safe and secure at home. People preferred home education rather than staying enrolled in schools even when children were promoted with the school shutdowns.

She mentioned that no one knows when the education system will recover, there are few online classes, but there is a lack of internet facilities. To add to that, the network keeps on getting restricted due to one reason or another. There have been 315 internet shutdowns in Jammu & Kashmir since 2021, the most in India. Home education becomes a challenge too. Recently, a young girl went viral on social media complaining about the online classes. She said, “Such a load of work is meant for big children. Why so much work for small children, Modi Sahab. What can be done?

Before the pandemic hit the state, the locals were well aware of the situation, with complete shutdowns and lockdowns. Other than the loss of primary earning activities like tourism, export, and farming, education was hampered due to various preventive methods like social distancing and staying indoors.

After being in the district for about ten days and working with volunteers virtually, I observed that education is of prime importance, no matter the gender. While the pandemic has pushed back the progress regarding education, the problem isn’t new for Kashmir. Frequent school closures and internet cuts have not helped advance girls’ education.

There remains a scope of improvement in education. For example, children should have free access to e-learning facilities, scope, and scholarships where girls can move to different cities for higher education without fear of going afar. But times are changing, the government and various NGOs are supporting many children to continue their education by providing access to the internet and computers, distributing educational kits and establishing remote classes through volunteer generation.

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

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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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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.

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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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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.

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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
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