Out of service
Godkhal is a pastoral area in central Kashmir, and communities like the Gujjars migrate here from neighbouring villages every summer. The Gujjars bring along their cattle and sheep, and set up kothas, also known as dokes (mud and log huts) in Godkhal. Other migratory communities, such as Bakerwals and Chopans, also move to similar pasturelands and meadows with their animals.
In order to provide basic education to the children of Gujjars and Bakerwals who migrate along with their parents, the Jammu and Kashmir government set up a mobile school system in the late 1970s. These schools are open from May-October, the migratory period.
Around 2004, the government set up several seasonal schools, based on the way mobile schools were set up, in hilly districts across Kashmir. To help run these seasonal schools, each area’s Zonal Education Office employs locally educated youth known as ‘education volunteers’. These volunteers are provided a monthly stipend of just INR 4,000. They teach and live in harsh conditions, away from their homes, with low pay, and little job security.
“From 2004, till date, there has been no revision in our stipend. The salaries of government officials have increased over the years, but we have been totally ignored,” says Gulzar Ahmad, General Secretary, J&K Seasonal Teachers Forum.
Their stipend is usually spent on rations, and they are forced to take shelter in kothas, even though the government is meant to provide their accommodation.
“We demand for some job security and continuation of our empanelment for the whole academic year. In addition, some risk allowance must be provided to us as we are on duty in harsh conditions,” says educational volunteer Mehraj u Din Sheikh.
Because of the poor working conditions, a large number of volunteers don’t attend to their duties anymore. As a result, children’s education is affected. Seasonal schools are also supposed to provide mid-day meals to enrolled students, but most do not do this. Tents that were once provided by the government, have not been replaced over the years. Children are forced to sit under the open sky, and take shelter under trees when it rains. There is a possibility that these open-air schools might have been able to function during the COVID-19 pandemic, but local shepherds say that for the last three seasons, the schools around their pasturelands have been defunct.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is the founder and chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement.
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