The year branded for the so-called “Mission 2020” ended up unleashing another crippling phase in Kashmir. Amid paralysis, the valley stood resilient despite strife bleeding it through a thousand cuts.
After surviving sixteen-month-long lockdown—the phase she mostly fended for herself indoors amid flaring up moods and depressive phases—Zainab Nisar is finally breathing easy in her classroom and pinning hopes for a hassle-free educational journey ahead.
Since, wearing a mask, keeping a hand sanitizer along and maintaining social distance has become new normal, 17-year-old school-topper assumes that the most difficult part seems to have passed.
“I don’t want to go to that period even in my imagination that consumed so much out of us and our education,” she says shaking her head a few times.
On August 4, 2019, the closure of schools without giving any specific reason was ordered by the authorities in J&K. Schools valley-wide remained shut for months after the abrogation of Article 370. And once they re-opened, it proved to be a fleeting affair.
Soon as Covid-19 pandemic imprisoned the globe, it proved to be a lockdown within a lockdown for the likes of Zainab and her 8-million strong valley brethren.
“Only a few weeks in our 10th standard, and we were home again,” she says mentioning the absolute helplessness with a 2G internet connection and almost no guidance.
“It was like living in a state of paralysis.”
Online classes on the slow internet have been the most pathetic part of the crippled education of Kashmir.
Child psychologists and parents have been predicting the fallouts of the phase impacting the education, while pressure on students is mounting each passing day.
Khurshid Ahmad Parry, a senior educator with almost a three-decade-long experience in teaching, predicts a backlash in coming years.
“For this generation, it has been the most difficult time and so has been to the education system,” Khurshid says while adding that the students haven’t lost a year only but for many a milestone that can’t be afforded to be skipped.
“I have seen 10th standard students helpless and crying holding the question papers despite having the relaxation of 40% in their syllabus,” he speaks of the examinations held lately this year.
“Options should’ve been prioritized not just considering a year of students but also in terms of academic principles that are the basic foundation to their choice of pursuing a career ahead,” he adds.
Another senior teacher questions the sincerity of authorities towards the education of the children.
“The centre which I was heading during matriculation exams saw the presence of our Director Education but only to check with the SOPs of the pandemic,” he says while adding that the director didn’t even bother to check with the students who mostly were clueless of the question papers they were holding.
The evaluation process is also a compromise to the veteran teacher along with others involved in the process. According to him, they have directions from the board to keep things easy.
“We can take papers home for evaluation and as per directions we are to mark score for the questions attempted, even if the solutions aren’t right,” he says.
While the education system remained in shambles in the plagued year, the health sector of J&K had no different story to tell.
The second wave of the Covid-19 spree is leading to an overwhelming state in the hospitals. The experts of the health department have been stressing on the SOPs yet a systemized response from the authorities remains missing. The only enforcement came from Srinagar mayor’s office when he decided to penalize the unmasked faces of the city.
“Eight doctors of the surgery department including professors tested positive in last three days,” says Dr. Iqbal Saleem, a senior professor at Government Medical College, Srinagar.
The health department has been at the forefront of chaotic times for the past three decades. But the current scenario is seen as the most difficult and testing time.
“This is totally a different scenario where you’re isolated if you get sick, or exposed if you attend a sick,” adds Prof. Saleem. “You can’t work even if you want to.”
Not just the health sector, Kashmir’s business fraternity has always been at the receiving end of the odds since past many decades. The year 2020 only proved to be the harshest.
Be it 90s or the mass agitation of 2008, ’10, ’16 or the 2014 floods, the business sector suffered and absorbed the worst hits.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), has already estimated a loss of Rs 40,000 crore this year.
“We have been falling to the uncertainties and the unresolved conflict being a reason that can’t be ignored,” says Sheikh Ashiq, KCCI president.
The President of KCCI sees the post August-5 lockdown as the backbreaker.
“COVID-19 did affect the businesses worldwide but here the post August-5 scenario had exhausted everything out of us,” says the commerce chief in a glum voice.
Like Ashiq, teenager Zainab is optimistic about the times ahead.
She never negates the fallouts and the odds that surround but is sure of taking a few of the positives along her educational journey.
“If nothing, during this time we learned to be self-reliant and being resourceful even when there aren’t many in sight,” she says with a gentle smile.
“We have passed through a lot and it seems we have a lot to rise above yet.”
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