The chilling fields of Sholora

Written by: Abdul Nisar
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Kupwara, Jan 5, (ANI): It is a particularly harsh winter in Kashmir for school students.The temperatures are plummeting to several notches below zero and the chilling winds seep through.

But it is not the temperature alone that they have to contend with. For the first time since 1885 when modern education was started in the Valley by Maharaja Pratap Singh, the schools have been ordered to remain open during winter.

The reasons are obvious; Kashmir was burning during the nearly long months of agitation and curfews from July, which had thrown normal life completely out of gear including school routines. Now to make up the lost time and cover the syllabus, teaching would continue in 272 secondary and 373 higher secondary schools in the Valley for Classes 1X, X, X1 and X11. Students of lower classes have been exempted.

In a quiet and remote area falling in Kupwara district on the border, the problems are quite different.

The area referred to as 'Sholora' essentially consists of six villages, Sholora Centre, Salamat Wadi, Sholora Bala, Gafbal, Shamnak, Sholora Paeen.

Kupwara has its claim to fame boasting of the IAS topper Shah Faisal and Shaikh Shafaat of Velagaam, a Gold Medalist (MBA) from Sharjah University, UAE. Inspired by their example and indeed seeing the benefits of education for the future generation, parents are keen to send their children to school. Except that Sholora area having a population of 3000 does not have a High School. For this students need to go to Karalpura, a five km walk.

For senior citizens like Haji Ghulam Ahmad Shad, 80 years old, it is bitter to see how little things have changed. He is reliving his own past, something, which he hoped, he would not have to hand over to the generations ahead. " Because there were no schools in our times, I could not study, and from the age of 18 I have been working in this shop. I fear for our children, if they don't get proper education they also might end up in a shop like this. I don't want that to happen." he rues.

"The middle school in Sholora was built in 1978, but there was hardly any effort after that to provide better educational facilities to the students. New schools are being built in other parts of Kashmir, but this village is still untouched and remains what it was many years ago."

According to Farooq Ahmad Shah from the same village, this area is being discriminated. "Our children have to walk many a mile to attend High School. Parents do not wish to send their daughters to school so far and many girls drop out at this stage. Several boys also drop out thus leaving the young at Sholora without a future that continuing education could have brought. Farooq says if only the Middle School got upgraded, it would help stem the dropout rate and he believes that in such an event, every child of his village would attend school.

Ghulam Rasool Wani, Principal, Government Middle School of one of the schools in Sholora region, echoes this refrain of discrimination "We have demanded a High School every time and though the authorities promise, this has never been fulfilled." He is pained and a bit puzzled as to how several schools have come up in the Valley, many of which have grown beyond imagination while the this school remains the same. Is this by chance or by design? The people of Sholora want answers.

Infact the Sholora school has a somewhat chequered history. The Nambardar of one of the villages 'Sholora Bala' Habeebullah Chauhan and the village Sarpanch Muhammad Gulzar Chauhan say that it was in 1996 that the foundation stone of a Primary School was laid in the village. They remember they were all delighted with the step taken by the government to establish the first ever school.

Earlier the children needed to go outside the village; a 2km walk to attend school. According to them, the growth has been phenomenal. "In 1996, there were only 80 students, but by 2000 the number has increased and therefore the school was upgraded to the Upper-Primary level. Noting the interest of the parents and the flow of admissions it was upgraded into a Middle School this year, which is good work." But here lies the rub. While the interest levels of the people rose, the interest of the government waned. In terms of upgrading infrastructure, it held back.

The Sholora school which began as a primary school had the same building in 1996 as it has now. Even today it is a one-room building catering to 200 students! The increase in the registration and the enhanced status of now a Middle School not withstanding, the building remains the same. Is this an aberration or wanton disregard of a remote rural area's need for education? Does the J and K state government take steps in a crucial sector like education in such a piecemeal manner? How on earth can you teach 200 students of different classes in one room?

To add insult to injury, the same room is used for office work. According to Headmaster of one of the villages in Sholora area, Muhammad Akbar Ganai, this means the 200 students are forced to sit under the open sky in this chilling cold. He says, "The Middle School has eight classes. We teach them in open air. During intense cold, heat and rain, we have no option but to grant them leave. Their studies suffer because of these untimely breaks." Says Ganai with a groan " The school doesn't even have basic facilities like clean drinking water and toilets. As a teacher, I feel ashamed of it. I wish the school had all basic facilities so that we can provide a good environment for education."

The bitter cold sweeping over the valley of Kashmir is no doubt taking its toll on the students, their comfort levels, their health. The children of Sholora in Kupwara district according to Charkha development feature service, want the government to provide adequate infrastructure for education without delay. With the country set to take strides in education, is it fair that this region lags behind? By Basheer Ahmad Peer (ANI)

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