By Samir Ahmad
While it is relatively easy to define militarization, measuring the extent and degree of militarization in a particular society can be a daunting task. Militarization also does not lend itself to a single unique measure: e.g. the amount of expenditure on the deployment of military resources in a particular state, region or country. In addition to budget allocations and expenditure, many other indicators of militarization demand rigorous conceptual constructs.[i]
Over the last two decades the number of the military personnel on active deployment is consistently increasing in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In the early 1990’s the Indian state deployed five divisions, i.e., around 250,000 soldiers, including 1,500 companies of paramilitary forces and state police, in the Kashmir valley alone[ii] which according to different reliable sources has reached up to more than half a million now. This is despite the fact that the number of militants has considerably declined over the last ten to fifteen years. As per the recent public declaration by the DGP of Jammu and Kashmir, there are less than two hundred militants active in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir.[iii] In other words, there are 81 soldiers for every square mile and roughly one soldier for every ten civilians against the national average of about 800 civilians per soldier. Ninety five percent (95%) of these military men are non-Muslims (Muslims form the majority of the state population) and non-Kashmiris, and therefore, hardly bear any sympathy for the local population.[iv] A European Union delegation during their visit to the State in 2004-05 declared Jammu and Kashmir a beautiful prison on earth. Moreover, the military institutions have been equipped with enormous arbitrary powers under various draconian laws such as, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) etc. All these laws confer complete impunity to the Indian military in the State of Jammu and Kashmir that has led to a complete emasculation of the democratic machinery, if any, in the State.[v]
Given this situation a need was felt to measure the extent of the impact of militarization on the education system and the school children in the Kashmir valley in the last twenty years of conflict. The broader objectives of one such study, that I conducted, were; assessing the various kinds of impacts of the military camps/bunkers established within and in the vicinity of schools and other educational institutions, exploring and measuring the relation between the presence of security personnel within or around schools and the sense of insecurity among school going children, and exploring the link between the presence of the military and the growth of the various psycho-social problems among the student community in the Kashmir valley. The purpose of the study was also to investigate, whether the presence of the military was causing any impediment for students to have free and safe access to their schools. This study is of particular importance because it provides information to sensitize various concerned government bodies/institutions, media, civil society groups (within and outside Jammu and Kashmir) and other stake holders, including the general public, about the repercussions of the widespread deployment of the military and paramilitary forces especially within the civilian areas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
During the research 360 students (including pilot sampling) were interviewed, and each student was asked to answer questions related to the issue of militarization and its consequences on the education system. During the study, students shared their experiences of various violent incidents and the difficult situations they encounter every day. In the various phases of the study, it was discovered that despite the claims made by the government of India and its defense ministry in the recent past, a large number of educational buildings are still either under direct military occupation or surrounded by their camps and bunkers, distracting students and causing a disruption of their daily activities in school. Out of the thirty schools randomly selected for the survey across the valley, seventy nine percent (79%) were at a distance of less than one kilometer (1km) from the nearest military camp/bunker. In fact, some of the schools share a common border with the camps. While twenty percent (20%) of them were just 2-3 kms away from the nearest military camp and one percent (1%) was partially occupied by the military or Para-military troops.
A military camp in front of school and students are being used by the military to buy cigarettes etc. from the markets.
Due to the presence of a military camp next to my school, which still exists there, we always feel threatened and scared. We were not allowed to play in the school ground as they (military personnel) could see us from the building that they occupy, and pass abusive comments or make obscene gestures.[vi]
The thick presence of the army in the residential areas has serious ramifications including sexual violence, insecurity, abuse and other sorts of harassment. Unfortunately, girls are more vulnerable to the adverse consequences of militarization of educational spaces.[vii] As a result, there has been an increase in the dropout rate among school going children, particularly girls.
Samir Ahmad, is a PhD Research student at the University of Kashmir.
[i] See, Seema Kazi, Between Democracy and Militarization: Gender and Militarization in Kashmir, New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2009
[ii] Oberoi Surinder Singh, Kashmir is Bleeding, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 53, no. 2, March-April 1997
[iv] Kiothra, Verghese, Crafting Peace in Kashmir, New Delhi: Sage, New Delhi, 2004, p. 71
[v] See, Kashmir: A Land Ruled by the Gun, Report by Committee for Initiative on Kashmir, New Delhi
[vi] Interview with a student (May, 2010)
[vii] See, HRW: Everyone Lives in Fear: Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir, September, 2006