WORKERS clean the campus of a school in Srinagar on Monday.—AFP
WORKERS clean the campus of a school in Srinagar on Monday.—AFP

SRINAGAR: Schools reopened in Srinagar on Monday but most classrooms were empty as parents kept their children home, fearing unrest over the Indian government’s decision two weeks ago to revoke India-occupied Kashmir’s autonomy.

Some 190 primary schools were set to open in Srinagar in a sign of normality returning to Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir where authorities started to ease restrictions on movement last week.

Parents said their children would stay at home until cellular networks are restored and they can be in contact with them.

“How can we risk the lives of our children?” said Gulzar Ahmad, a father of two children enrolled in a school in the city’s Batamaloo district where protests have occurred.

“Troops have arrested minor children in the last two weeks and several children were injured in clashes,” he said. “Our children are safe inside their homes. If they go to school who can guarantee their safety?” Authorities have previously denied reports of mass arrests.

Parents say children would stay at home until cellular networks are restored so that they can be in touch with them

Srinagar’s top administrative officer, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, said on Sunday that adequate security would be provided for schools. “I will take responsibility for any untoward incident,” he added.

Protests began after the Aug 5 decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to withdraw held Kashmir’s special status and integrate it fully into India, with equal rights for all Indians to buy property there and compete for government jobs.

Critics said the decision alienated many Kashmiris and would add fuel to a 30-year armed uprising in the Himalayan territory.

At least 4,000 people have also been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows imprisonment for up to two years without charge or trial, government sources said.

“Most of them were flown out of Kashmir because prisons here have run out of capacity,” a local magistrate said.

Authorities have declined to comment on the numbers of people behind bars.

Those picked up include local politicians, activists, business leaders and lawyers.

Paramilitary police in riot gear and carrying assault rifles stood behind steel barricades and coils of razor wire in Srinagar’s old quarter to deter a repeat of weekend protests.

In dense neighbourhoods such as Batamaloo, youths set up makeshift barricades to block Indian forces from entering.

Authorities reimposed curbs on movement in parts of Srinagar on Sunday after overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured, two senior officials and witnesses said.

Journalists visited two dozen schools in Srinagar on Monday. Some schools were lightly staffed and classrooms deserted. Gates at other schools were locked.

Only one student showed up at Presentation Convent Higher Secondary School, which has an enrolment of 1,000 pupils, and went home, said a school official.

There were no students at the barricaded Burn Hall school in one of the city’s high security zones.

“How can students come to classes in such a volatile situation? The government is turning these little children into cannon fodder,” a teacher said, among a handful of staff who turned up for work.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019