A Lost Childhood

By Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil for dailykashmirimages.com

A happy childhood is now a thing of the past. Without being pessimistic, I say this again…. a happy childhood is now not only a thing of the past but also a non-happening in the future as the present is so painful. I never thought the day would come when our children would be the recipients of not only pellets but also the recipients of being forced to wear the badge of bravery and courage and be the voice of adults in the front line.

Yes, I am talking about the use of pellet guns in the valley which has been making news all of the last two weeks and widely discussed and debated upon. Indeed, conflicting news coverage and crafted communication often makes it difficult to interpret the ground reality.  The fact however remains that pellet guns were introduced in 2010 by the then Government for use by the J&K Police and has been used even prior to this and now the current dispensation also uses it. Even a small impact of a moving body on the human body can cause the tissue of the skin to harden and become numb. There is no doubt whatsoever that pellets from guns can have a greater impact. The question is are the pellets currently in use larger than earlier? However, the impact seems to be more visible as do the number of children impacted in this round. Children becoming the target is the saddest state of affairs for any society. Having seen the change in the landscape over the last 6 decades, one cannot but mention the slow disappearance of the Sufi culture which always talked of coexistence. Our enemies would be only too happy to have the changeover to be more than 100% and for the people to be hyper and children continuing to be the face for the agenda movers.

Children are born without any feeling of hatred and are naturally happy. Hence the saying "...as happy as a child" . Their minds and hearts are like soft clay and impressionable. Our children are also like all innocent children across the world. Their minds thrill with small little gestures as a smile or a wave of the hand and not only does it make them happy but they also reciprocate it. However, like in the Pavlovian experiment, the mind follows the conditioning it is given.  It is the environment around and society that contributes to mounding these pliable minds. Did these children come to the streets on their own? Would any innocent child hold hate placards on its own and be in the frontline? I can only with a very heavy and agonized heart quote Junaid’s lines in Plain Talk – My son was ‘taken’ from me in Kashmir Images of 26th July 2016, “Nobody knows which bullet was fired by whom…murdered a Kashmiri son.

The successive governments in the state have absolved themselves from all the responsibilities. One sin cannot justify another sin. The central leadership has conveniently closed their eyes when the renegades created havoc and criminalized the whole state devastated the environment and inflicted innumerable miseries on Kashmiris and celebrated by some sections in the center. The recent visit of Home minister reminds me a visit of a land lord to ensure land parcel is intact no matter whatever the cost. The politics of appeasement is a hard reality and it is time for the central and state leadership to look within and ask serious questions about the unrest and loss of human life. The current political alliance in Kashmir is an unholy one with conflicting political thought and values and has the potential of destroying everything around. The common minimum agenda is to look the other side that is what our chief minister and her associates did. History is a cruel judge and negating the truth will have serious consequence for the peace in south east Asia.

I am an optimist but the recent happenings force me to feel as if black clouds have delimited the smiles on children’s faces, comfort and security in the eyes of the youth and tranquility& serenity in the hearts of the aged. The elite of Kashmir, while living a life of comfort, have obscured the social, cultural and political aspirations of common man. His suffering is manifested in various fetish forms--- He breathes deluge of tragedy in the very air he breathes and resorts to patience that has so far stood the test of time. Such cruel dimensions of tragic sense of life are conspicuous and penetrate every sphere of men on the streets of my beloved state. The intention is not to initiate a public debate on whether government’s advisors or successive state governments and the central leadership are innocent or insensitive, but one cannot help feeling impotent in the so called claims of being the part of the world’s largest democracy.

Education is a major contributing factor in not only removing poverty but also promoting growth and overall development. The last 2 decades has seen an utter neglect of this sector which is also visible in the economic growth. The fledgling primary schools that are crucibles of our future are again impacted. Look at the state of Sub-Saharan Africa which has a visible lack of improvement in education and one in Sub Sharan African cannot read or write, this despite the UN places emphasis on the need for education as a basic human right. We as a society/community have an obligation to fulfil to our children in the form or ensuring this basic human right in ensuring that education as a provision is unhindered and childhood is not snatched away by vested interests. Lone voices will not be sufficient in enabling this. A firm political will and urgent address to reform will be needed to reinforce any initiative. Merely stopping the pellet guns being used on children is not the solution. Introspection is very necessary if we want any positive actions from the parent community to ensure that our future, our children are not the frontline.

Infrastructure has been put in place to provide education. This is only the physical aspect which come under the category of hard infrastructure that comprises of school buildings, transport, materials etc. What about the soft infrastructure in the form of the necessary environment? Let us not delude ourselves by thinking that education will take care of itself in its own time since hard infrastructure is in place. Both hard and soft infrastructure are necessary for fostering education and again I underline I do not mean “literacy” by “education”. Time and again, I come across grumbling and complaining about the lack of hard infrastructure. We are surely missing the woods for the trees. Stakeholders and policy makers should understand the importance of long term education programs rather than the very short term hard infrastructure issues. I also underline the need for study materials that are equally non-partisan so that children remain without agenda conditioning and row to be individuals that can think and decide for themselves rather than be brainwashed into being part of the frontline.

The rural population is the worst hit in this kind of a situation since both hard and soft infrastructure are lacking. The UN defines rural population as “10,000 people living in a settlement predominantly surrounded by farms, forests, deserts and other geographically isolating features.”  Lacking a political voice, they struggle to make sense of political games and their voice remains unheard struggling in the vortex of lack of development, lack of economic opportunities and apathy of stakeholders to address their issues. Add to this corruption and we have the perfect platform to take off to nowhere. Education initiatives in the past have been impacted due to low levels of accountability and a total absence of a competent authority of different segments such as government, non-governmental organisations and experts from the non-governmental sector. Minimum corruption not only in education sector but all sectors is necessary for development and growth as competent oversight and accountability plays a large role in strengthening soft infrastructure.

While community involvement is a necessity and not a luxury however to ensure that our children do not become soft targets of overarching agenda and ambitions of political players, it is equally important that the community be more alert and aware so that they do not fall prey to passions that destroy.

-A writer, thinker, published author, and an educationist, Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil, is GLOBAL HEAD low cost schools, GEMS Education, Dubai, UAE. He has over 3 decades of experience in the field of education – setting up, operating and managing schools. You can contact him at farooq.wasil@gmail.com


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