As the video of the first-ever celebration of Republic Day at a school in the Shopian district appeared on social media, the school authorities told The Kashmir Walla that they were “pressurized by the army” to lend them the school space.
The visuals of Jamia Siraj-ul-Uloom, a private school based in Shopian’s Imamsahib area, had emerged on social media yesterday in which men and young boys were seen holding the tri-colors as the Indian national anthem played in the background.
Mohammad Yusuf Mantoo, the founder and chairperson of the school, told The Kashmir Walla that the army’s 44 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) was pursuing him to “hold this function for the past one month”.
“Army insisted that we should do it, put our school’s banner in front, however, we did not agree,” said Mantoo. “But they insisted that you have to do it. We were under pressure.”
The school has been in the news since the police claimed to have arrested three of its teachers under Public Safety Act (PSA) in October 2020. At a press conference, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar had then said that “five or six more teachers of the school are under surveillance … the school is basically affiliated with Jamaat-e-Islami … at this moment, we are taking action against the individuals. If there’s a need, we will act against the institution as well.”
The school authorities have repeatedly denied the allegations and affiliation with the accused and had said they were ready for any investigation.
“For past months, we have been under verification and we have answered to them,” said Mantoo. “Our institution has moved on from it, so it was their last attempt that we will do this function here.”
Mantoo explained that the school is situated between three camps of the government forces, including the army’s 44 RR. For a month, Mantoo said, he refused to hold the function at his school.
“I told them you can do it and if you pressurize us, at most we will participate and sit in front of you,” he said. “They didn’t give us a reason but they were adamant to do this in the school, they had to involve our institution.”
Mantoo said that he had told the army that due to winter vacations, neither the students nor the staff was at the school and no one but four to five guards would be able to attend the function. “What can we say [to them]. The atmosphere that is here from top to down, we are helpless, what could we do?” he said
Mantoo also told The Kashmir Walla, that a day before the function the “army came with bulldozers and removed the snow.” Next morning, “they assembled people from the neighbourhood, brought government employees and numberdars. They brought the flags and took them back after the function.”
The young students, who stood with flags in hands, “aren’t the students of our school,” Mantoo said. “Army brought them from nearby areas. The locals were told to come like we were told; they were also asked to come.”
Mohammad Shaban Thoker, the local numberdar who had unfurled the flag at the Jamia Siraj-ul-Uloom, however, claimed that “this was a routine function like every year”. “Ten-fifteen locals, numberdars, government employees, and the army were there,” he said.
The Kashmir Walla attempted to contact the army spokesperson for a comment but his phone was out of network range. This story will be updated as and when contact is made.