In Kashmir Meadows, Tribal Boy Maroof Awaits Seasonal—Suspended—School

Gujjar-Bakkerwall children await seasonal school. KO Photos by Umer Ahmad

Ever since Kashmir landscape was altered in August 2019, students in the valley haven’t been to schools. Among them is Maroof, who rears cattle, while missing classes, in south Kashmir pastures.

By Umer Ahmad

HIRPUR, Shopian – Spending most of his time rearing livestock in the sprawling south Kashmir sanctuary, Maroof is missing his school friends.

Every day, this Class 5th student of a Gujjar-Bakarwal tribe waits for his teachers in the meadows of Hirpur wildlife sanctuary to resume his seasonal school. But his wait only lingers on.

The teenager has not been to school since August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Article 370, which gave special status to the erstwhile state.

Before schools would become shut shops in Kashmir last year, Maroof had found a new direction—“an aim in life”—changing his focus towards studies and life.

“I was unsure about things before teaching started appealing me last year,” says the barely 13-year-old boy. “I want to take teaching as my profession so that I can guide children of my community.”

Every year, Maroof along with his Gujjar-Bakarwal tribe follows the centuries-old tradition of summer migration in the valley. The tribe starts from their winter habitat in Jammu, on the first week of April, and reach their summer destination in a span of 40-45 days on foot journey.

As the caravan of gypsies reach the valley, their children begin their seasonal—mobile—schooling.

These schools were first introduced in 1953, when the government opened them in Rajpora Kashmir, and Samba district of Jammu.

The motive behind such schools was to sustain education of the tribal children even during their migration period.

Till 1980, almost 800 seasonal schools were functional in J&K. In 2000, under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), 1500 seasonal schools run by 2000 teachers were further added in the erstwhile state. Nearly about 33504 tribal students are getting their education in these seasonal schools.

However, to Maroof’s chagrin, seasonal schools for the tribal children have not opened this year.

Political lockdown followed by pandemic curbs have greatly impacted the education of tribal children bereft of other means of study, like online classes or private tuitions.

“Every year teachers used to come to this place and teach the children of nomads, but this year, no mobile school was arranged,” says Baidullah, one of the community members living in the meadows of Hirpur. “How can our children compete with other students after finding themselves in this unending state of apathy?” 

Apart from situational mess, most of the mobile school teachers are being accused for dereliction of duties.

“Teachers who’re assigned to these seasonal schools have a nexus with the higher authorities,” Zahid Parveez Chowdhary, a tribal activist, told Kashmir Observer. “Despite raising the issue with higher authorities, these teachers are yet to put these schools in order.”

The disparity exists even as Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha already announced a separate budget to provide mobile phones for the tribal students, the activist says.

“Nothing has been done so far,” he says. “They only talk big and give us false hopes.”

Notably, the promise of mobile phone was made, as these tribals migrate to the ‘no-network zone’ hinterlands of Kashmir.

Meanwhile, in absence of seasonal schooling, Maroof calls meadows his new classroom and cattle his new friends.

“It has been more than a year I’ve not been able to attend school and it seems there is no end to it,” the boy says.

“In absence of school, I keep narrating the rhymes to my cattle that I’ve read last year at my school, hoping I’ll see my friends again and start learning soon.”

The boy helps his family rearing livestock and spends most of his time in the meadows. His parents are worried about him as he has become anxious and aloof.

“I can see his dreams fading with every passing day,” laments Shaheena, Maroof’s mother.

“Maroof is one of the brightest kids in our community. We were very hopeful about his bright future, but now I’m worried about his life. He often asks me, when is he resuming his school? I just lie every day to assure him: ‘Soon, son!’”

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