FAT schools reopen in Kashmir, but students still in panic

Published : March 16, 2019 16:03 IST

The Falah-e-Aam Trust (FAT)-run schools in Jammu and Kashmir opened on March 11 along with other schools after winter vacation that extended for over two and a half months. However, a mix of fear, apprehension and loss of esteem hounds its students, many of whom are from underprivileged backgrounds. This despondency stems from the ban imposed on the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) by the Government of India for its alleged support to militant outfits. The FAT is affiliated to the JeI and has come under surveillance, unannounced of course, even as mass arrest of JeI leaders continued, along with the sealing of their properties.

The Centre imposed a five-year ban on the JeI on February 28, under Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), on the grounds that it was “involved in anti-national and subversive” activities “intending to cause disaffection”. Soon thereafter, on March 1, the administration in Kashmir sealed a private school that was run by the organisation in the Ajas area of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district. Although the ban was lifted in the face of local protests, a message went down Kashmir's hinterland that the FAT schools may not be allowed to run freely. Despite Governor Satya Pal Malik’s announcement that there will not be any clampdown on them, panic remains.

There are over 300 FAT schools in which several thousand students, mainly from humble backgrounds, get good education. A Srinagar resident whose two daughters study in class 3 and 5 at Ramzan Memorial Education Trust, a FAT school in Soura locality, told this reporter that the crackdown on the JeI has brought along with it a loss of pride for his daughters and their schoolmates as any direct or indirect association with the JeI is viewed with suspicion. He said the “collective effort on the part of New Delhi, with the help of the national media, to portray the JeI and its affiliates as terror sympathisers has put these schools in a vulnerable position” and obscured the future of thousands of students.

 The man, who did not want to be quoted, said the clampdown on the FAT school in Bandipora, among others, was “most unjustified”, as these schools did not promote any religious or political ideology, but were focussed on imparting modern, scientific education. “These schools follow the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) syllabus and are affiliated to the Jammu and Kashmir State Board of School Education (JKBOSE). They have good teachers and infrastructural facilities, and all of that comes at a fraction of the fee charged by public schools,” he said.

The aspiring politician and former IAS topper Shah Faesal seconded the thought: “The FAT schools have done commendable work by making quality education available to the poorest of the poor. They are a non-political organisation and they also have an enviable group of alumni who have outshone others in their respective fields,” Faesal told Frontline

 A couple of Srinagar-based office-bearers of the FAT said that although the schools had reopened, some teachers were underground as they feared they might be detained. One of them said: “To be honest, after the initial crackdown, the FAT schools are not being touched. But many of our faculty members have someone or the other in their families affiliated with the JeI. Some of them have sought leave, and others are apprehensive and the whole environment is not conducive to the smooth functioning of the schools. We have been getting frenzied calls in the past two weeks from parents; the students are demoralised.”

 A retired headmaster of a government school in Chorsu village in Pulwama, told Frontline that FAT schools charge much lower fee than what is charged by other private and public schools and even government schools. “At a time when the situation in Kashmir is so volatile, there really was no rationale in cracking down on JeI members randomly. Many of these FAT schools have students and faculty members belonging to the JeI, and the whole exercise seems to be aimed at further demonisation of Kashmiris,” he said.

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