It’s been five months since India put the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir under a military siege. After abrogating Article 370 of the Indian constitution in August, the Indian government stripped Kashmir of its special status. Authorities imposed restrictions on the movement of people, while they gagged mobile phones and internet services. Soon, they incarcerated hundreds of Kashmiris in jails, including minors and slapped then with Public Safety Acts, where they could be detained for up to two years without charge. Public transport was forced off the roads, and schools were closed. To this day, Kashmiris continue to be cut off.
Among the hardest hit have been students. With their schools shuttered, students are forced indoors and reeling with frustration and uncertainty about their studies as well as their future. SWK spoke to students about their situation:
Munazah Mushtaq, second-year student pursuing B.A., Amar Singh College, Srinagar
I feel like a bird caged in iron fetters. I feel that I have been jailed. I feel that life has been whisked away from me, and I don’t know what to do. In the last four months, since the siege, I have come out of my home just three four times. I come out to visit the college and see if the classes have resumed, and I go home every time disappointed. The college feels alien, as if it is some prison. Mostly, the campus is deserted.
I got frustrated at home. I wanted to go to college and study. For days, I remained shut inside my room, bored and frustrated. I dream of becoming an economist, but it looks that I may never be able to live out my dream.
After a month of living under siege, I wanted to look for a private tutor in my locality. I found someone teaching 100 meters away from my home. But my parents didn’t allow me to take lessons.
There were state forces everywhere and my parents feared they would tease me. There have been numerous incidents of the soldiers passing indecent comments at the girl students in our locality. I didn’t dare to even go to my tutor.
I tried to study on my own but was unable to focus. The fear of what might happen to people distracted me from studying. Suddenly, the government announced that exams will be held next month. I thought it was a joke! How can the government even think of conducting exams when students haven’t been to college for four months? It made me angry and I no longer want to study. This government does not care about students at all.
I don’t really know where to go. Sometimes I just want to run away from this place and go somewhere else to study. I feel depressed and I’m not able to sleep. The very thought that I may not be able to study, gnaws at me.
Razia Nazir, first-year B.A. student, Namlibal, Pampore, district Pulwama
There’s no education to be had for us. My parents didn’t allow me outside because they feared that I might get killed, or worse, raped by soldiers. The soldiers always stare at the girls when we go out.
I had no contact with my friends for three months. I didn’t know how they were doing. Having no contact, and unable to go out, I had no access to books or study material.
For the first two months, I’d just sit at home, shut inside my room. I wasn’t able to focus. One of my friends at college had been detained and beaten by the police. When I heard about that, all I wanted was to pick up stones and throw them at the soldiers.
The state has made our lives a hell. I’m so overcome by fear that I don’t want to go to college ever again. I’d like to live the life of other students around the world — go to college, study, meet my friends, and dream of becoming a professor. But now, that all seems like a fantasy.
Uncertainty fills me, about me and about my future. It seems if I live in Kashmir, the future is dark. The Indian state wants to destroy an entire generation.
Khan Sarmad Ahmed, NEET aspirant, Khoshpora, district Islambad
I want to become a doctor. But I couldn’t attend tuitions, necessary for the preparation for NEET exams. Just a month before the siege, my father, who is a farmer, borrowed 100,000 Indian rupees (about $1,400) to pay for my exam prep. I left my village for the city. My plan was to attend classes and study hard. Then the government clamped down and the tuition center closed. I thought the tuition center would reopen soon. Yet three months have passed and it still hasn’t opened.
In the first few weeks, I continued to study. But then I plunged into depression. I would think about my father’s hard-earned money and how it all went to waste. I was overly enthusiastic when I joined the tutoring, determined to become a doctor. Now I’m distraught. How can I appear in the exams like this? Will I become a doctor or not? I’m not at all prepared. I was unable to study and cover all the material.
I’ve heard stories of gruesome beatings at the hands of police. Of boys my age. I’m unable to focus. How could one study when so much is happening around?
As time went on, I became depressed and couldn’t sleep. I’ve been worried about my studies. My heart palpitations grew. I began to forget the concepts I learned on my own. I have now come back after four months and joined the tuitions again. It feels strange, the place feels strange. I am struggling to learn now. I didn’t want to appear for the exam, but my father told me to try and leave everything to God. I wish I had enough money to go out of Kashmir and study elsewhere, in peace.
Amir Ahmed Bhat, Kakapora, Pulwama, a science graduate
What lies for us in the future? Nothing! I had so many plans. I’d wanted to apply to various universities, and was preparing for that. I need to finish my bachelor’s degree in Kashmiri first to apply for graduate programs. But I don’t know if my college exams will happen in time. If I don’t complete my degree in time, I may never be able to study further. How will we apply? How will we plan to study? The internet is off. Mobile phones are off. As a student, I cannot do any meaningful work without the internet. I used to download information from the internet and study. What will I do now? My parents spend lots of money on my education. I don’t know how to face them if I lose this year.
The state is playing with our future. I have taken to smoking. It’s a release. I try to study, but I don’t know for what. I haven’t seen my college for three months. I have even forgotten what it looks like.
I waste away my time, and my life with it. If the government is so concerned about the future of Kashmir, why don’t they lift the curfew and internet ban so that we may study? I would have gone out of Kashmir and studied, but my parents don’t have that much money. Is it a crime to be born a Kashmiri? It feels that way, with the government punishing us by forbidding us to study.
Yasir Ahmed Sheikh , Class 12 Student, Sirajpora, Handwara
In our modern age, the internet is everything. And without the internet I’m unable to study. I would download study material from the internet and had subscribed to an online course that would’ve helped me with future engineering exams. Since August 5, I’ve had no internet access. The government has barred it.
And my studies have suffered. I thought that even if I’m not able to go to school, I’d at least access the internet and study. But it didn’t pan out that way. And since then, I’ve lost all interest in school and studies. I’m bored to death, lying and sleeping in my room. I waste my time.
On top of this, is the worry that I might be beaten or detained by the police. Many boys from my village have been detained, even some of my classmates. When so much fear is around, all one wants to do is run away from this place, and live a ‘normal’ life somewhere else. During the siege, all I did was sleep and eat.
My parents are worried about me and so am I. Forget about my dream of becoming an engineer. It seems that wrong to dream in this place. You never know when the school will open again. This place runs on the whims of the government.
What pains me more is seeing the frustration of younger kids than me. They haven’t been able to go to school. They’re indulging in various harmful things. I’ve seen young kids as young as 7 years old smoking. They’re not to blame. How much can they endure? On the one hand, the government claims that they care for the prosperity of the students. Then on the other hand, they shut down schools and don’t allow the students to move out of their homes. This government lies, and is hellbent on destroying the future of Kashmir.
Yasin Ahmed (name changed) Research Scholar, University of Kashmir
The internet is crucial for academics and researchers. However, I have no access. I can’t even check my email. I’d sent one of my papers for a conference, but I don’t know what happened to it. I’d worked on that paper for six months. I sometimes don’t want to think about it. My hard work has gone to waste just because the government decided to gag the internet. After the siege, I wasn’t able to leave my house for two months. I had planned so much but I couldn’t accomplish any of it.
Sitting at home worsened my depression. I come from a financially humble background. I’d wanted to become a teacher and support my family. But now, I’m not sure if I will be able to complete my studies.
I’ve lost track of my work and I have to force myself to keep studying. At times, the effort I put into my studies seem futile and meaningless. I don’t know when the siege will ever end. And if it ever ends, I don’t know when the next siege will be forced upon us. It’s frustrating.
All I’ve done is wait for it all to end.