People gather at the Govt. High School, Hawoorah, for the funeral prayers of Owais Ahmad Lone, a militant killed in Arwani gunfight on 26 Oct 2018. Photograph by Sanna Irshad Mattoo for The Kashmir Walla
“Whenever I listen to people crying, or barking dogs, I rush to hide. Those sounds remind me of the day when army dragged me from my classroom,” said Nadim Mushtaq Dar, a class 9 student in the Government High School of Hawoora. Mushtaq was dragged outside to the vehicle and, as he said, was tortured for seven days in the police custody.
The Government High School is located in the Hawoora area of Kulgam district – 60 kilometres from Srinagar, a highly volatile area of south Kashmir. It is well-known among the locals for its dense poplar trees around it and a huge playground. Unlike earlier times, when children used to run around in the field with football, now in the recent years the field is used by the locals for funeral prayers for “martyrs of the village.”
The village has offered fourteen funeral prayers in the school playground this year by now – ten civilians and four militants.
The scenes outside one classroom window is not pleasing anytime, sometimes blurred with the tear-gas and bleeding emotions, other times the fear of happening so. The students are quite vulnerable to government forces’ action and the retaliation of local clashes as well. Government forces have also arrested over a dozen youth recently from the locality, and because of that, as villagers said, the situation went worse.
“How can one expect a student to be psychologically fit, when he sees bloodshed from his classroom window, and not depressed? The locality is not an issue, but Kashmir is. No one is paying heed to it,” a local teacher at the school, requesting anonymity, told The Kashmir Walla.
Unlike the funeral prayers, when the whole school playground was echoed by pro-freedom slogans, it was calm now. Surrounded by a cluster of houses, only the sounds of a sawmill was audible, and hustle-bustle of the grocery shop in front of the school gate.
According to the school staff, whenever the government forces stop there, fearing the threat they pose, they hide children in the classrooms. Earlier this year, both the staff and the students were beaten up and tortured by the forces following minor clashes between them and the local youth. The students feel like that they not only suffer physically but psychologically as well.
Two students are in constant fear for falling prey to the government forces again after being thrashed by them recently. “We only think about the days when this bloodshed will end,” said the duo, without giving their names. “The scenes of mourning do not fade away from our eyes. We are unable to focus in class. All we think is – what if the army visited again?”
Another teacher, requesting anonymity for fear of backlash from the authorities, said that the children witness their friends and schoolmates falling down to bullets and pellets. “They read their classmate’s funeral prayers in the school playground; how can you expect them to be regular and attentive?”
As per the school administration, girls are more regular to the school than boys. Being more vulnerable to the forces’ action, the boys rarely make their way to school.
Fearing the nocturnal raids, the students are unable to prepare for their upcoming exams. “We have a threat of being chased by the government forces,” said a student to his teacher. “This keeps us away from books.”
Another student from the school had left the paper blank in his final examination of class 9. He admitted that he couldn’t study as the forces’ were looking around for local boys, and he was fearful of it.
The shopkeeper next to the school gate, Mushtaq Ahmad, who opened his shop after 34 days of continuous shutdowns, always keeps himself ready to run with his goods. “Look at this key inside the lock, as soon as anything happens, we lock the shutter and rush to a safe place. All day we make the strategy to cope up with their (forces) actions,” added Ahmad.
The shops in the nearby area are closed soon after the Maghrib (sunset) prayers. “People used to visit here late in the evening but now they hardly visit our restaurant,” said the young owner of the restaurant. “Now, we close it early before the last prayer (Isha) of Muslims. One man always keeps an eye on the main road to keep a watch on the forces’ vehicular movement till the shop is closed.”
As Nadim Mushtaq told us about the time he was dragged and beaten up by the forces, his teachers were also thrashed by the army as they tried to save him. Watching the forces enter the school, the girls had screamed, and it led them to Dar’s classroom.
That day three youth were shot dead outside the school, including a class 7 student, Andleeb.
“My parents asked me to quit the studies,” said Aamir, alumni of the school, who left his studies in the class 11. “I was often caught by the army and this constant threat made me quit my studies. Being the elder child of the family, I have to take care of them in the future.”
The school also lost a class 2 student, Saqia Majeed, in 2016 uprising due to the heart attack as the forces came and beat the people.
“What had I done that time? Was I guilty of being in the class?,” asks Nadim Mushtaq, and said, “Since that day I always like in fear of being taken again. The only thing I think of in class is – what if they came back?”