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A mother, a son and Kashmir's education tragedy

Praveen Swami

Islamist radical Asiya Andrabi wants schools and colleges shut. Her son wants a passport to study abroad


In June, some private schools briefly reopened, but shut down again after Andrabi's warning

Secessionists have long insulated their children's education from the troubled region's politics


SRINAGAR: Last month, Kashmiri Islamist leader Asiya Andrabi lashed out at parents worried about the consequences the weeks of violent street protests she has spearheaded might have for their children.

“Losses of life, material and the education of children,” she said in a July 13 statement, “are inevitable in our freedom struggle. But these cannot be reasons to make compromises. The material sacrifices made by students, cart-pushers or daily-wage labourers have no value when compared to those who are ready to make the supreme sacrifice for the cause of freedom.”

But documents filed in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court suggest that the fugitive Dukhtaran-e-Millat leader's son does not want to be among the tens of thousands of school and college students who have been locked out of educational institutions since June — or to join the ranks of those dying on Srinagar's streets.

Petition for passport

In a petition filed before the court on April 30, 2010, Ms. Andrabi's teenage son Muhammad Bin Qasim asked that he be issued a passport in order to pursue college education abroad.

Filed on behalf of Mr. Qasim by a maternal uncle, since he was then a minor, the petition says the teenager has “applied for admission in Malaysia and has indicated his first choice as Bachelor of Information Technology and second one as Bachelor of Laws [sic.].”

June 1992-born Qasim, the documents show, applied for a passport on March 2, 2010. He applied for admission to a university abroad after obtaining 553 out of a possible 750 marks in his final year school examinations last year.

However, the Jammu and Kashmir Police, which verify the antecedents of passport applicants, claim that the 18-year-old could be a threat to the state's security. In a May 24, 2010 response to Qasim's application, senior additional advocate-general A.M. Magray has stated that the teenager may be “misused” by his anti-India family if allowed to travel abroad.

The Jammu and Kashmir government's affidavit relies on the fact that several of Qasim's relatives have been key figures in the State's anti-India movement. His father, Ashiq Husain Faktoo, a former member of the terrorist group Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, is serving a life sentence for the 1992 murder of human rights activist H.N. Wanchoo. Inayatullah Andrabi, another of Qasim's uncles, was a founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami's student wing, the Islami Jamaat-e-Tulaba. Qasim, then just three, himself spent 13 months in prison along with his parents after their arrest in 1993.

Ms. Andrabi's inflammatory polemic has given an increasingly ugly shape to the protests in Kashmir. Earlier this month, she condemned representatives of religious minorities who met with Tehreek-i-Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani to voice their concern at communal strains in the ongoing mobilisation. “Minorities can ask for security from the majority only after we get freedom from India,” she said. Ms. Andrabi also claimed, without basis, that Hindu fundamentalists in Jammu had “burned alive a number of Kashmiri Muslim drivers.”

But there is nothing to show that Qasim is involved in his parents' politics. Last summer, Ms. Andrabi dragged her son home from Jammu, after learning that he had been selected to play in a national-level cricket tournament. “How,” Ms. Andrabi had told the media, “can I let him play for India? My son will never serve a country that is our enemy. It is just impossible.”

“I was playing,” Qasim responded in an interview, “for Kashmir. Cricket is my passion. After Islam and my parents, cricket is everything for me. I just wanted to play at least one national-level match in my life.”

Bleak future

Hundreds of Kashmir families have been exploring educational opportunities outside the region. Schools and universities have been shut since early this summer, when protests on Srinagar's streets began to escalate. In June, some privately-run schools briefly reopened — but shut down again after Ms. Andrabi warned that she would not be responsible for the consequences. Educational institutions in Jammu have since reported a surge in applications.

Kashmir's élite, including anti-India secessionists, have long insulated their children's education from the troubled region's politics. Incarcerated Islamist leader and lawyer Mian Abdul Qayoom, for example, sent one of his three daughters to study medicine in Darbhanga in Bihar. His nephew is a ninth-semester student at the Dogra Law College in Jammu — a privately owned institution owned, perhaps ironically, by local Congress leader Gulchain Singh Charak. Two other nephews, and a niece, obtained degrees in law and science from Pune.

The unfortunate ones

“The élite of our society,” journalist Manzoor Anjum wrote in an editorial commentary in the Urdu-language newspaper Uqab last month, “had already sent their children outside Kashmir for the pursuit of education, and those who had not done so earlier are doing so now. But the people who cannot afford to do so, who are in the majority, are caught between the devil and the deep [blue] sea. The bleak future of their children stares them in the face.”

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