Are Schools in Kashmir Safe? 

For Representational Purposes only

There is neither lack of resources nor the scarcity of means and methods to secure our schools. There is a lack of will and dearth of policy making

IS it not that the very mention of the word school scintillates the images of blossom, security, man-making, innocence, love and care in our minds? When our children, our kiths and kins, the angelic children leave for school, do we not develop a sense that they have landed in a safe haven that will turn them into paragons of creation?

This projection is true most of the time and if parents ensure their child's biological existence, schools, guarantee them a dignified and purposeful social and intellectual existence. But in the midst of this prophetic mission, there occur incidents with varying gravity and frequency which calls the safety of children at school into question, which awakens us to the horrors of trauma and abuse faced by children in schools.

What we have been talking about can be bracketed under the category of intangible insecurity and violence which may not meet the observer’s eye directly. But there are aspects, much immediate and more serious which highlight the otherwise ignored subject of school safety and these aspects include the very mundane and explicitly visible structural instabilities in school buildings, the seismic insecurity , lack of proper fire fighting equipments in case of contingency, non-accessibility to clean and secure toilets for boys and girls, the lack of safe drinking water in school premises, the absence of proper fencing and many other structural and systemic lacunae which expose the children to a spectrum of vulnerabilities and risks.

Physical and Structural Safety 

Let us start our scrutiny from what meets the eye easily – the physical parameters and structural odds . The problems are more aggravated in government run schools but private schools too don’t score well enough in the overall evaluation matrix.

Driven by the Constitutional mandate of ensuring comprehensive schools safety including but not limited to the elimination of psycho-social abuse, sexual violence and preparedness to fight the natural and man-borne disasters, ELFA INTERNATIONAL in collaboration with Samagra Shiksha Jammu and Kashmir and with UNICEF India conducted a comprehensive school safety audit in all 20 districts of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Though their activities ranged far beyond simple auditing and included the training of teachers and students to mitigate any untoward situations arising in schools at any point of time. The program also covered some intangible and unrecognised facets of comprehensive school safety.

Earlier, as we were talking about the physical and tangible components of school safety, the organisation had earmarked relevant and decisive indicators like the presence of school disaster management plan, the designation of nodal person to carry out disaster management activities, water, sanitation and hygiene standards, availability of first aid kits in schools, availability of safety and security equipments and such other components of physical denomination. The survey revealed that out of hundred schools sampled, 30 came out to be safe and secure, 48 were moderately secure, 21 were not safe and secured enough and 1% stood out as unsafe and unsecured. Remember, this is a sample consisting of just 100 schools and we are looking at something that might have hardly crossed our thoughts.

Of the 10.8 Lakh government schools in the country, over 42,000 lack drinking water supply and 15,000 have no toilets, reported The Times of India. At times, the location of schools is such that it either pushes them beyond the reach of students because they have to travel for miles together or it exposes them to vulnerabilities of varying nature and magnitude. This may appear somewhat weird to our urban and suburban population, but in villages and far off areas, the remote location of schools becomes an issue of perennial concern. Despite the abundance of funds and continuous flow of money, why shall our government schools (most of them) lack the basic infrastructure?

Let’s look at still more obscure and unspoken aspects of school safety and see what tragedy befalls some students once they enter the school premises.

Violence and Abuse 

Hindustan Times reported not long ago that of the 100 minor rape/sexual assault survivors, 33% dropped out of school and only 9% have plans to resume studies, the survey said for which the commission had interviewed 94 girls and 6 boys. Here, more important than statistics is the prevalence of these gore and inhumane episodes inside schools. When we think of rapes, sexual abuse, molestation and child abuse, we either imagine these incidents taking place in the darkness of backrooms or amidst the buzzing and bustling streets where bodies inevitably intersect each other. But a place like school to be a festering with sexual violence is gruesome and has corrosive effects on the psycho-social well-being of students suffering the ill fate.

Who is Responsible? 

Reports reveal that average expenditure per student at the primary level is 12,786 INR but what does come out of these expenses? Do students avail the facilities, services, scholarships, perks and privileges that the government and constitution has entitled them to? Where is accountability, where are checks and balances and why do government schools carry with them the stigma of backwardness and regress, despite the availability of all resources in ample magnitude? It is not here for us to pit government schools against privately owned educational institutions, but to look at the viability and challenge response dynamics of both, because the future of our children, their life and well-being is associated and inextricably linked to these spaces. And it shall come to us as no surprise that even our private schools, which have mushroomed here and there, fare poorly in terms of safety parameters and disaster management and mitigation methods.

There is neither lack of resources nor the scarcity of means and methods to secure our schools. There is a lack of will and dearth of policy making. Incidents of building collapsing, lack of proper facilities, the unreported and tragically unnoticed cases of physical, mental and sexual abuse and violence could be easily averted.

Can the administration not ask schools to submit school safety audit reports? Can a school not have a counsellor to sensitise children to the spectrum of violence they are subjected to? Can our schools not have a dedicated cell where students can confidentially report the abuse, if they face any? Can our governing bodies not make it mandatory for schools to have proper clean drinking water facilities, separate toilets for boys and girls, a timely electrical evaluation, and periodic structural checks? Does all it take anything more than a few bucks and concern towards our children? Will we prefer to be an example or admonition for others – we have to decide.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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