Spinning Action into Words

Much more to border areas than skirmishes

By Mohd Anis ur Rahman Khan, Delhi

Salamat wadi is a quaint little village tucked away in Karalpura block in the border district of Kupwara in Kashmir.  I chanced upon this in my travels in this region which is in focus for strategic reasons but very little is in known about how people live, what their problems are and their aspirations for development.

It was a lovely morning, the snow-covered mountains surrounding the village, the birch trees reflecting the gentle sunshine. I chanced upon a group of children.  They were queued up according to their ages or classes, I presumed.  I realised that I had just come walking upto a school.   I learnt that children here are an enthused bunch. They would land up way before school officially opens and sit around the compound, on rocks and stones, waiting for their teachers to begin the day.  What a far cry from students in metros and cities.  I do not recall seeing that longing, that energy to go to school for learning!   

After the prayers, the teachers armed with blackboards walked across the open ground, which was essentially just rough land surrounding the school building. By no stretch of imagination can it be called a playground.  Placing these blackboards against the walls of nearby houses, students were divided according to their class and studies began. I was puzzled at why they continued to stand in the open despite a building that I could see at a distance.  A stream was flowing nearby, its waters making a gurgling sound. Quite delightful I thought, what a novel way of conducting classes, in the lap of nature! Except that in this school run by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), this was not a matter of choice but circumstance. 

I realised that both the rooms of the school building were in effect unusable for teaching.  One was used as an office while the other was stocked with supplies and items required making mandatory Mid-Day meal. I noticed that children had got jute mats or ‘boriya’ from their homes. They fell into a familiar routine, placing their footwear beneath it and squatting on these mats. 

I learnt that the land for building the school had been donated by Muhammad Gulzar Shah a villager, who himself is not well-off. He lives in a small ramshackle building with his five children. What moved Gulzar Shah to donate this piece of land, when he himself is not a rich landowner?  Obviously, it is his spirit which wants to see the children of his village being educated, the desire to contribute to the ‘Ilm ki shamma’ or the light of learning, so evocative in Iqbal’s poem.  It was his form of service for the community and indeed the cause of education in this little known block of the border district.

The same spirit reflects in the young Sarpanch, Mohd Basheer Ahmad Mir, only 25 years old.  He is committed to the  welfare of the region which he rues is still backward.  He is proud of Muhammad Gulzar Shah and his generous move towards school education. Says Mir that this move has drawn the attention of the local MLA Mir Saifullah who has promised to donate Rs. 2 lakh for renovating the school.

Change is happening gradually, driven essentially by efforts of the local community and of course the redoubtable spirit of the young students.  The Sarpanch recalls how the school came up. “In 1996, the foundation of a primary school was laid in our village.  Before that the students would walk 2 km to another school.  From 80 students, the numbers have been increasing and the school was upgraded to upper primary school in 2002. Today, it is a middle school.”    Still he feels the response from the government has been sorely inadequate. “Today, about 200 children come to this school, yet it continues with only the two rooms that had been constructed initially”, he rues.

The children, indeed the people of Salamat wadi have spoken, they have demonstrated their strong spirit to learn, to teach, to create an environment where education can open up young lives. Sadly, the government is not keeping step with the momentum or matching the dynamism of the people.  Unless that happens, can they really justify their position as elected representatives of the people?

Charkha Features

CHARKHA : D-1947, Palam Vihar, Gurgaon-122017, Haryana | +91-124-4079082 - 4072638|