Srinagar, May 18: Kashmir is not just about curfew and conflict. In spite of difficult times, students of the Valley have hope that they too could study in top Indian institutes like the Indian Institutes of Technology or the National Institutes of Technology.
This has been made possible after a group of IIT graduates have got together to help students and engineering aspirants realise their dreams in Kashmir.
Mubeen Masudi (IIT-Bombay), Imbesat Ahmad (IIT- Kharagpur), Salman Shahid (Chemical Engineering, IIT-Kharagpur) and Saifi from the Delhi Technical University have come together to form an organisation called RISE.
Through RISE, these four young IITians are "bridging the gap between opportunities and the students in Kashmir". The educational organisation was started in 2012 with just four students. Currently, it has 200 students.
Last year, RISE sent four students to IITs and this year, 40 have qualified for NITs.
"Here in Kashmir, no matter which stream students belong to or what career they aspire for, they lack proper information and counselling. They lack guidance. Information has not flown here as it has in other cities.
"We provide the right information at the right time to help students prepare for entrance exams, give their ideas shape and facilitate them with best educational tools," RISE co-founder Ahmad, MS, Physics, IIT-Kharagpur, told IANS.
"We could have had a far better result but last year's curfew came in the way. Currently, we are targeting engineering institutes like IITs and NITs. Last year, one student got selected by the Princeton University and one by the University of Washington. Net ban, curfews, strikes, etc., make things difficult. Book shops are shut and ecommerce sites do not work here," Ahmad added.
Ahmad pointed out that for exams like the Scholastic Aptitude Test for admission to US colleges, internet is need. The Jammu and Kashmir government has banned access to several social media sites in the Valley in April, citing law and order problem.
It is not just the clampdown on internet that RISE members and students are fighting against. They even survived the ravages of the 2014 floods.
"We had set up a library here with our books. We lost around 4,000 books. For over a month, our activities were crippled. What happens is students lose their morale because they already feel that a student in any other city has a head start over them and when classes are cancelled, it kills precious time.
"Once a student feels he or she is lagging, it is important to encourage them to persevere and that is where our role becomes important," said Ahmad, who hails from Patna, Bihar.
It all began for Ahmad when he visited Kashmir for an education workshop and realised the education scenario in India's northernmost state was in dire straits. He came in touch with Masudi who hails from the state and they decided to join hands to reverse the situation.
"Last year we had 110 students and for 40, our services were totally free. For the rest, the cost varies from Rs 10,000 to Rs 35,000 for a coaching period ranging from four months to two years. The charges depend on how much they are ready to pay, what their financial capacity is. Money is not an issue here. Parents are ready to pay. There are people who can pay 10 times this but even at this price you can't get someone from IIT or NIT to come and teach here. Money is there but resources aren't," he said.
"There are around 30 per cent girls among our students. The ratio is pretty good here. There is aspiration among the students and we are trying to give them a boost," Ahmad added.