It is the rarest of rare occasion on which the government, opposition, separatists and civil society speak in one voice in Jammu & Kashmir. But that is what happened after stone pelters attacked a school bus carrying 50 students in Shopian on Wednesday – drawing criticism from chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, opposition leader Omar Abdullah, plus separatists Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The overwhelming sentiment was best expressed by the father of 6-year-old Rehan Gorsai who suffered a serious head injury in the attack. He said this was an inhuman act, because we need to guard our children, keeping them away from “it”.
Many have paid the costs of the long socio-political conflict in the Valley, but dragging innocent schoolchildren into their battle is beyond the pale. And yet, the fact is that Wednesday’s attack was not a one-off incident. Education has been a steady target of violence during the current phase of unrest, which again and again shuts down schools for months. It is either that or the endless bandhs. It is pertinent that stone pelters attacked the school bus on Wednesday for defying a bandh call. But education should not be held hostage to either protests or bandhs. Between them these two pincers would leave the Valley calendar with few functional school days.
When children cannot attend school let alone play outdoors they are effectively under endless house arrest, perhaps with toxic social media their main companion. Vested interests exploit the frustration of these denuded children to serve their own ends. But it is noteworthy that in 2016 when separatists ensured a shutdown of the entire Valley for months, which hurt around 2 million students and even burnt down some 25 schools, their own children often kept getting schooled at premier institutes.
The policy of giving amnesty to stone pelters is also flawed. Instead of incentivising lawful behavior it may well encourage the opposite, now targeting not just security forces but also tourists and children. The Mehbooba government must see that penalties are important for deterrence. It must bring those who attacked the school bus to book. Failure to safeguard education will be to surrender the prospects of peace and prosperity, whichever way any political dispute goes. Don’t let Valley schools go the way of its movie theatres.((Courtesy:TOI)