Amid controversy over exams, school buildings continue to go up in flames

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Srinagar: Even as the government decision to hold exams without “requisite class work” in restive Kashmir has snowballed into a major  controversy with students frequently taking to streets, around a dozen educational institutions went up in flames, mysteriously, in the past around of month.

While in the latest, a school was gutted in a mysterious fire at Watoo Aharbal in south Kashmir’s Kulgam on the night of October 21, prior to this at least 10 such structures were reduced to cinder.

Reports reveal that single storey building of Government Girls Middle School Watoo was gutted completely in the fire which erupted at around 10:30 PM.

Even as education sector has been badly affected in the ongoing unrest of over 100 days of siege and protests, the schools are equally bearing the brunt. But as to who set the buildings on fire remains a mystery amid allegations and counter allegations.

On September 8, when a government school was gutted during clashes in Kulgam district, the Mirhama locals said it was due to the use of tear gas shells by security forces. Officials said it was the first school building to go up in flames in cases of mysterious fire at schools during unrest.

While the police control room in Kulgam confirmed that Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Mirhama area of the district was gutted when forces and civilians clashed in the area, it did not comment on how or why the fire started. Area locals, however, said tear gas shells were fired to break up the rally in the school compound.

Officials said of the buildings gutted till now, three were private schools while the rest were government institutions. Call it fate or coincidence most of the schools were gutted mysteriously since the month of September when the state government started in futility its efforts to get the school and college work resumed.

In another incident a heritage institution, Islamia Hanfia Educational Institute Anantnag was gutted in a mysterious fire incident. While the government was condemning the “act of miscreants”, another school Government Middle School in Vihil Shopian was gutted on the same day.

Likewise in frontier Kupwara, Government Primary School Wangam at Handwara was gutted on September 12. A week later, Government High School Lilam in Vilgam went up in flames on September 27.

In Baramulla, Government Middle School at Palpora village was gutted on October 10 while the same day, Government Middle School Thuru in Ganderbal district got equally reduced to cinder.

While Education minister Naeem Akhter personally visited one of the affected buildings in  Anantnag, he expressed serious concern over such incidents.

Though the police filed cases, there’s no breakthrough or end to such incidents yet.

The schools continue to be burnt in “mysterious blaze” at a time when the government has taken a stiff stand over holding of exams in the month of November with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti throwing weight behind her Education Minister.

The students, their parents, and the civil society, on the other hand, have largely been seeking postponement of exams to March as students are yet to complete even 40% of their syllabus in the classrooms.

The government on the contrarily claims to give “relaxation” in the syllabus.

People, however, say the ruling coalition was politicizing education to give a rosy picture of the “prevalent worst-ever humanitarian crises” which left at least 94 dead, over 15,000 wounded, of which some 1000 lost eyesight to pellet guns.

But the government has decided on holding of exams next month while police has been asked to facilitate examination of even detained youth, around 9,000 of whom have been put behind the bars in a bid to restore law and order.

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