With nearly 26 schools becoming target of miscreants in the ongoing unrest in Kashmir Valley in the last two months, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court stepped in on Monday and directed police and civil administration officials to devise modes and methods for protecting educational institutions.
"All the three responsible officers present in the court are directed to sit together along with higher authorities and lower officials and to devise modes and methods which will be effective in protecting school institutions," a division bench of the court said.
The state government has pointed accusing fingers at separatists, saying they had started the "era of destruction" in Kashmir but were now trying to find an escape route.
Education Minister Naeem Akhtar also ruled out any probe into these incidents, saying, "One does not have to research for the source of this huge conspiracy against the hapless people of Kashmir."
The high court took suo motu cognizance of the reports about 26 schools being burnt in Kashmir Valley over the past 115 days of the unrest which started following the killing of terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in early July.
The directions were issued to the Inspector General of Police, the Divisional Commissioner and the Director of School Education of Kashmir.
The case was heard by Justices Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Ali Mohammad Magrey.
The court also directed the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police to issue necessary instructions to their district level officers including Deputy Commissioners and SPs to take all preventive measures as shall be necessary for saving the school buildings from being burnt and to ensure that no other school building is harmed or destroyed.
"Further the mysterious enemies of education shall be unmasked and dealt with iron hand," the court said.
The bench lashed out at the state government, saying the "administrative authorities are required to have resort to protective measures but they are still in deep slumber, appear not to have devised any protective policy for protecting school buildings".
The bench observed that the mysterious burning of centres of learning has sent shock waves awakening all to ponder.
"Education is the main factor for intellectual excellence and prosperity. Imparting education in the centres of learning has no other viable substitute," it added.
The court also expressed hope that the "mysterious persons" will stop burning school buildings and "also hope that the citizens will also help in protecting school buildings".
The court listed the case for next hearing on November 7 and directed the three officials to remain present.
J&K govt sees separatist hand in burning of schools
Education Minister Naeem Akhtar in a statement said, "burning of schools is one of the ploys to keep the fire burning (in Kashmir)... It is the same people who are promoting looting of banks, torching of shops and vehicles, stoning innocents, intimidation of citizens, who are responsible for burning the educational institutes."
Asserting that "no inquiry is needed to find out who is behind all this", the minister said, "It is those people who have created this tirade against education, because they see it as a threat to their vested interests."
Akhtar said the separatists had mounted a tiger and are now trying hard to keep the conflict going.
Targeting Yasin Malik, the minister said in the initial phase, the JKLF chief and others were "at the forefront of driving the shutdowns but now they have distanced themselves and thrown the ball solely in the court of (hardline Hurriyat Conference chairman) Syed Ali Shah Geelani."
Defending his decision to hold Board examinations as per schedule, the Education Minister said the government is not trying to invent or impose anything new in the academic arena of the state.
"We are only trying to safeguard the career of lakhs of students, whereas separatists, with their shutdown calls, are trying to destroy their academic career," said Akhtar, who is also government spokesman.
Referring to the Malik's statement that the burning of schools in Kashmir was a conspiracy to defame the separatist leaders, Akhtar said, "those saying that government decision to hold exams has forced students to torch the educational institutes should go for a self-introspection".
The Education Minister appealed to people from all schools of thought to keep the education conflict-neutral.
"Just see Palestine or the recent happenings in Aleppo, Syria. Their schools are never shut even if there are bombings, killings and full-fledged war. They know that education is the key and in no way they can stop education.
"Compared to that, Kashmir is a peaceful region, except for the insecurity caused by the hartal politics being promoted through stone-pelting and intimidation," Akhtar said.
"In Kashmir too, we faced unfortunate deaths for which all of us are heartbroken and pained, but for saving the future generation, education has to go on," he said.
Taking on Yasin Malik, Akhtar said, "It is the examination time for leaders like Mohammad Yasin Malik who is now facing questions from the people over the way they are pushing Kashmiris into perpetual economic and academic disempowerment."
He also asked him to clarify whether he is with militancy or non-violence.
"Malik is famous for saying that he was inspired by (Mahatma) Gandhiji when he announced ceasefire and abandoned his path to martyrdom whereas he is promoting others to do so and continues to glorify violence.
"Now I want to ask him whether he stands with violence or Gandhi Ji's principles of non-violence. Has he again changed his thoughts? Akhtar asked.
(With PTI inputs)