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How do you weave a picture of a girl in a conservative and conflict ridden society? Can she make it to school? Does she have dreams? Benish Ali Bhat on school in the conflict-ridden Kashmir valley.The 1990s in the valley of Kashmir saw armed rebellion at its peak. To crush the rebellion, a huge armada of security forces was deployed. The valley was like a prison and to make it to school was a tough task. Military “crackdowns” were the order of the day. Soldiers would knock on your door in the morning, afternoon or even at the dead of the night. Apart from that, hartals (strikes) and curfews were considered normal.

Going to school was a challenging task. I used to pray hard so I’d reach school without much fuss. My school was not ‘just a school,’ it was my kingdom. A kingdom where all were equal!  My school was just for girls (coeducational institutions were few and the social environment would make parents prefer a girl’s school). This was a place where girls used to express their desires, their feelings and debate and discuss anything under the sun.

Cricket was an obsession. Hours were spent discussing cricketers and their looks. They were our first crushes. I laugh today when I remember girls fighting over their rights over each cricketer. My favourite was Shahid Afridi(a Pakistani cricketer). I bet, the stories I created along with my friends, Farnaz, Tabindah and Tabeen were better than most Indian soaps on television! There was a constant risk of getting caught if you were carrying pictures of your favourite cricketers.

Due to the conflict and some social restrictions our schooling was almost entirely based on syllabi and cocurricular activities were minimal. For the most part of my school life there were no picnics or camps (conflict and security being the major reasons!). To add to this, being a girl, your parents wouldn’t allow you make your own plans of moving out with friends like boys were allowed to. I don’t regret it though!

Our society has the seeds of being a male dominated one and it is easy to find boys given preference over girls. So what did some girls do? They transformed themselves into boys. I remember a classmate of mine who used to believe she was a boy and would act like one. She had also given herself a boyish name!

School was a habit hard to break and we hated the long winter vacations. Family trips would make up a bit for the disappointment, but these were never enough. The 12 years of my school life where I learned the skills of being the social animal, where I acquired my initial knowledge of life, my body and the surrounding world are unforgettable. It is that phase of my life where my innocence was the ultimate treasure, no responsibilities, a time when homework would be the biggest tension of my life. Though surrounded by conflict, the biggest conflict within me would be a scolding from a teacher or the fight with my friend.

On meeting my school friends now, we reminisce the times spent in our classrooms, mimicking our dearest teachers, remembering episodes when we together got caught doing something that wasn’t allowed. I would love to have carried many more memories but being born in such a volatile place and that too, in its most volatile phase, takes its toll.

Benish Ali Bhat

Date

24.07.2012 | 13:33

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