An army school strives to win hearts and minds of people (Feature)

September 6th, 2009 - 10:35 am ICT by IANS  

By Binoo Joshi
Surankot (Jammu and Kashmir), Sep 6 (IANS) The school is in a dream setting, but many of its students keep having nightmares. They are children of killed militants or of those killed by terrorists, all brought together here.

The Army Goodwill School in Potha village of Poonch district nestles between the Suran river and the range of hills that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. It is part of the army’s Operation Sadbhawna (Goodwill) launched in 1998 to win back hearts and minds of people of Jammu and Kashmir. There are 51 such schools in the state with 11,353 students in all.

The school was opened in 2003 at primary level and has now moved up to class 10, with 575 students in all.

Class 9 student Rashid Zameer is the son of a former militant. He does not want to talk about that “dark phase” of his life. “Let’s not talk of who my father is. Let’s talk about my aim in life,” Zameer told this visiting IANS correspondent.

“I want to become a commander in the army and my family has no objection at all,” said Rashid confidently. He said that from childhood he used to watch soldiers around his house in Fazalabad village, conducting anti-militancy operations. “It is due to the army that we are finally safe and able to live peacefully. Had it not been for the army our lives would have been doomed.”

Class 7 student Saria Bano is the daughter of a former militant. She does not want to to share her nightmares. She says: “The army is providing us such good quality education here that I have no doubt I’ll be able to compete and become a doctor, which is my aim in life.”

Parveen Akhtar’s husband was killed by militants. Now her child studies in the school. “When my husband was killed, I had no money at all. So I was scared about the future of my children. The army came forward to provide education to my children; otherwise there would have been no hope for them.”

Parveen gets Rs.3,000 monthly besides free education and books for her children.

Sharifa’s only son is also studying in this school. “I was very scared about the future of my son as militants intimidate such children and lure them into their cadres. He would either have to become a labourer or would have become a militant had the army not provided help for his studies.”

She recounts over a dozen incidents where militants had taken away boys to become militants. “They trap boys by giving money and take them to Pakistan for training as militants. Then their lives are destroyed, and so are the lives of their families.”

Such schools provide employment too. Salma’s husband was killed in a militancy-related incident. “I am working as a teacher in junior classes in this school. Besides, my son is getting free education.”

(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at binoo.j@ians.in)

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