IN a world where education serves as the cornerstone of progress, access to quality learning opportunities is crucial for every individual, regardless of their background or geographical location. One such commendable initiative has been the welcoming embrace of Kashmiri students by mainland India’s educational institutions.
Mainland India’s higher education landscape has flourished over the years, offering myriad academic disciplines and programs across esteemed universities and colleges. Kashmiri students, driven by a thirst for knowledge, now have the privilege to select from a diverse range of courses spanning fields such as engineering, medicine, humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
- The history of chaos
Jammu and Kashmir, a land marred so often by conflict and turmoil, bears scars. While education is widely recognised as a fundamental human right, it has regrettably been one of the hidden casualties of this prolonged conflict. The repercussions have been particularly harsh on the younger generation, who have endured a dangerous and unsettling situation for decades.
The enduring conflict spanning years has dealt a crippling blow to the region’s education system. Countless children were robbed off the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right, a right championed by international agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Frequent disruptions in the form of shutdowns, curfews, crackdowns, and cordon and search operations were a distressing norm in Kashmir.
These constant upheavals resulted in the widespread closure of schools, an unprecedented consequence. Data collected by governmental and non-governmental bodies indicates a stark decline in enrolment figures over the recent years.
Financial constraints and staff shortages have forced the closure of over 3,000 adult and non-formal education centres in the region since 1990. The younger generation, born after 1990, has been often confined to their homes due to persistent violence and uncertainty, spending more time within their homes’ four walls than in classrooms.
- A revival since 2019
The education sector in Jammu and Kashmir has achieved significant progress, especially post the Article 370 abrogation. The government has been actively implementing various initiatives to enhance curriculum, introduce innovative projects, and expand educational capacity. Notably, 25,000 new seats across 50 colleges were added in a year, marking a historic increase. Emphasis is being placed on value-based education and individual growth, with a focus on blending evolving education needs with market dynamics.
Efforts are underway to make quality education accessible to all, including the underprivileged. The implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP) is a major stride, making Jammu and Kashmir a pioneer in aligning its curriculum and methodologies with the NEP’s multidimensional approach.
Dropout rates have decreased significantly, and the region’s education infrastructure is undergoing a dynamic development, including colleges, universities, and schools. Overall, Jammu and Kashmir’s education sector is on an upward trajectory post the Article 370 abrogation, reflecting a commitment to holistic growth and transformation. But this is an ongoing process.
- Education away from home
Limited opportunities in the region have led to a ‘mass migration’ of students seeking higher education outside. Insufficient colleges, political turmoil, and infrastructural issues have pushed students away. The Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) attracts many, covering tuition and hostel fees.
Opportunities for students outside Kashmir have become increasingly appealing due to various factors. The region’s limited educational infrastructure, political instability, and challenging environment have prompted many students to explore educational prospects beyond its borders, for better opportunities and a more conducive learning environment.
Students are drawn to universities and colleges in northern Indian states, such as Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. These institutions offer a more extensive range of courses, better facilities, and exposure to a broader academic world. The PMSSS attracts students to universities outside Jammu and Kashmir, as it provides financial support to cover tuition, hostel fees, and other expenses.
Furthermore, the desire for exposure to diverse cultures and a global perspective has motivated Kashmiri students to study outside the region. Many believe that studying in more stable and academically enriched environments will provide them a competitive edge and broader horizons.
Despite the challenges that come with studying away from home, such as adjusting to new climates and locations, the allure of better education and opportunities for personal growth remains a driving force. However, the situation also calls for addressing the issues faced by these students, ensuring transparent admission processes, equitable distribution of scholarships, and a supportive environment to enhance their overall educational experience.
- Bridge to career opportunities
The influx of Kashmiri students into mainland India has paved the way for cultural exchange and strengthened national unity. By studying alongside peers from different states and backgrounds, these students are not only gaining academic insights but also imbibing a rich tapestry of cultures, languages, and traditions. This interaction contributes to the breaking down of stereotypes and fostering a sense of belonging among students.
Recognising the financial constraints that some Kashmiri families may face, many educational institutions in mainland India extend scholarships and financial aid to deserving students. These initiatives aim to make education more accessible, ensuring that no aspiring scholar is held back due to economic limitations. Mainland India’s institutions provide an environment conducive to social integration and personal growth.
Students from Kashmir are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, clubs, and organisations, allowing them to showcase their talents, build friendships, and develop essential life skills. One of the primary goals of higher education is to prepare students for meaningful and fulfilling careers.
Varied universities in India collaborate with industries and businesses to offer internships, workshops, and seminars, thus providing Kashmiri students a platform to hone their practical skills and establish professional connections.
While the educational opportunities for Kashmiri students in mainland India are undeniably promising, it is crucial to acknowledge and address the unique challenges they may face. Adapting to a new environment, language barriers, and homesickness can be obstacles, but with proper support systems in place, these challenges can be overcome.
- First person
We speak to a few students and teachers on the changing face of education in Kashmir as well as on the aspect of studying away from home. Meanwhile Ajaz Ahmad, a government school teacher in Srinagar, expresses his enthusiasm over the opportunities for Kashmiri students today.
He says: “Our commitment to education remained unwavering even during the transition period. The resilience shown by our students and staff has been commendable. We are witnessing a renewed passion for learning and academic growth among the youth.
There are extensive educational courses across India and the students who are studying outside too are making us proud even as they tap their potential and move towards career growth”.
Owais Magray from Srinagar, and a B.Tech student at Chandigarh University says, “There are many Kashmiris in my university and in other colleges and universities outside J&K. Meanwhile, here there is a variety of courses and a huge accommodation. We shouldn’t feel any hindrance in moving out of our hometown because it simply opens opportunities for our future and family. I’m happy my parents support me and motivate me”.
Mainland India’s warm embrace of Kashmiri students is a testimony to the nation’s commitment to inclusive education and unity in diversity. This educational journey transcends textbooks, imparting invaluable life lessons of tolerance, empathy, and respect. As these young minds embark on their academic quests, they are not merely students but ambassadors of change, bridging gaps and building a brighter, more harmonious future.