Students protest against scheduled annual Board exams at Pulwama in south Kashmir | Photo: Vikar Syed / JandK Now

Minister for Education and spokesperson of the Jammu and Kashmir government, Naeem Akhtar, wrote an open letter to senior pro-freedom leader Syed Ali Geelani on Kashmir’s leading newspaper, Greater Kashmir, on October 11, amid the three-month-long civil uprising in Kashmir. Akhtar explains why he feels education must be pursued even along with other agendas. In this article, Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa responds to the minister’s letter by creatively rewriting his text from the perspective of a common Kashmiri and a journalist. Text from Mr. Naeem’s letter is written in italics, while Vijdan’s response follows in regular font.

Mr. Naeem: A few weeks back a prominent militant organization publicly urged you to permit them to take action against those who are hurting the ‘tehreek’. Sometime later the organization actually issued a threat against me for ‘trying to open the schools’.

Vijdan: A few weeks back the Indian Home Minister publicly urged security forces to bring back normalcy within a week. Sometime later the army (meant for fighting other armies) actually took over the streets in south Kashmir to apparently prevent massive peaceful pro-freedom rallies.

This was followed, ironically only a day after I advised my audience of teachers to read your autobiography to understand the importance of education in the context of your personal struggle for it, you along with other leading lights of the ‘tehreek’ issued a statement justifying the action threatened earlier.

This was followed, ironically only a day after the chief minister advised audience at a degree college to see Kashmir as a complex multi-dimensional challenge which requires a “serious, concerted and inclusive effort at diplomatic and political levels”, but your ‘democratically-elected’ government facilitated deployment of the army.

A Mir Ja’afar, as I was supposed to be, obviously had to be punished. The verdict has openly gone out and the sentence is pronounced. The case is decided.  An attempt to open schools, as you too mentioned in your charge sheet will go down as the newest crime in the land of Sheikhul Alam, Lal Ded and Sheikh Hamza punishable by death.

A terrorist, as I was supposed to be, obviously had to be punished. The verdict has openly gone out and the sentence is pronounced. The case is decided. An attempt to kill and maim children ‘who had not gone out to buy toffee and milk’, as your chief minister mentioned in her charge sheet, will go down as the darkest crime in the land of Sheikhul Alam, Lal Ded and Sheikh Hamza punishable with death by bullets and pellets.

And I plead guilty to having the belief that whatever our political future, it will have meaning only if our children receive education and are able to engage with the world on their terms.

And I plead guilty to having the belief that whatever our political future, it will have meaning only if our children survive and are able to see the world on their terms. Sight makes education easier.

I believe that we are caught in a big situation and its complexities are nowhere near a solution. Education is one sector that can enable us to navigate through the storm. Nothing else will.

I believe that we are caught up by a so-called democratic but brutally autocratic government whose aspiration is nowhere near a solution. Right to self-determination is one sector that can enable us to navigate through the storm. Nothing else will.

Please don’t mistake this letter as a plea for clemency. Addition of one insignificant grave to thousands of the victims of violence will hardly matter. This place could survive the murder of the likes of Moulana Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone, Moulana Masoodi, Dr Guru, Dr Farooq Ashai, Dr Wani, Jaleel Andrabi and countless others falling victim to guns of all description. Sadly it still is on.

Please don’t mistake this letter as being from a misguided youth who is funded by Pakistan. Addition of each significant grave to thousands of the victims of state-violence matters. This place could survive the murder of the likes of Tufail Matoo, Wamiq Farooq, Junaid Ahmad and countless others falling victim to guns of all descriptions – assault rifles, pellet guns and teargas shells. Sadly it still is on.

And I don’t count myself as in any way important enough even to be mourned. If I die one of these days or am killed I know my family might find it difficult even to get a burial place for me, for your condemnation comes with more than a death warrant. It carries a stigma. Still I would neither apologize nor explain or seek clemency.

And I don’t count myself as in any way important enough even to be mourned (in the eyes of the government). If I die one of these days or am killed, I know my family might find it difficult even to get a burial place for me, for your teargas shells fired on mourners comes with more than a death warrant. It carries an aggression. Still I would neither stop writing nor let my conscience down.

I believe in the same God and profess the same faith as you do. Who can teach you the Quranic verdict of the timing of death being unalterable? It will come when it has to, for me, you and everybody.

I live in the same Kashmir and follow the same culture as you do. Who can teach you the democratic setup? It will not come to an end, because it has already ended, for me, you and everybody in Kashmir.

But I may remind you of a lesson that you taught me more than three decades back. It is an anecdote you have recorded in one of your books and therefore part of our history.

But I may remind you of a statement that your party chief Mehbooba Mufti made three years back. It is a criticism your chief minister has recorded in one of the news reports and therefore part of your party’s supposed stand.

I had accompanied the legendary director General of Police, Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah sahib to look you up in the SMGS hospital Jammu when you were under detention. Understandably, you did not record my presence in your narration. But for the readers of this letter I’m trying to reproduce the conversation.

I had opened a leading daily newspaper to look up the news of the day when your party was in opposition. Understandably, your party did not record its future in the narration. But for the readers of this letter I’m trying to reproduce the quote.

Peer sahib had told you it’s all destined and from God when you complained about your detention. You narrated a parable to him which got etched in my memory. “A hermit stayed under a tree in a village. He would just repeat one sentence continually; jo karega Khuda karega. A mischievous person came from the rear and slapped the hermit. He turned his head around asking who it is. The person said why you are looking around as according to you it is God who does everything. The sage replied; I know it is God who did it but I was just finding out who blackened his face in the process.” For once I found Peer sahib at a loss for words.

Syed Ali Geelani was under house detention and used to complain about his illegitimate imprisonment. Your party chief made a statement which got etched to my memory. “Geelani and other Hurriyat leaders are being kept under house arrest. Geelani sahib is not even allowed to discharge his religious duties. He has not been allowed to offer the Friday prayers for past many months, which is a shame for the NC (National Conference) government.” For once I found chief minister Omar Abdullah at a loss for words. The previous year, your party chief criticized the ban on a social networking website in state assembly. “The young boys and girls use internet to stay connected and express themselves… Instead of coming on streets if they express themselves on internet, it should be encouraged.” In this case too, I found Abdullah at a loss for words.

Respected Geelani sahib I committed this story not just to my memory but my character as well. I wonder whether you remember it.

Respected Naeem sahib I recording this story not just to my memory but to my expectations from your government as well. I wonder whether you remember it.

Why I feel education should be kept out of any discord flows not just from the common sense and cumulative wisdom of human race but also from the fact of Prophet (SAWS) organizing teaching classes of his Muslim companions in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Badr. I can’t be informing you, sir but it is worth repetition for the readers that the non believing Meccan prisoners who could read and write were released just for teaching the Muslims. They would obviously not be teaching them Islam.

Why I feel oppression should be kept out of Kashmir flows not just from the common sense and concept of human rights but also from the fact of Prophet (SAWS) teaching us to fight against oppression. In a narration, Abu Huraira says, “Allah’s Messenger (SAWS) said, ‘Whoever has oppressed another person concerning his reputation or anything else, he should beg him to forgive him before the Day of Resurrection when there will be no money (to compensate for wrong deeds), but if he has good deeds, those good deeds will be taken from him according to his oppression which he has done, and if he has no good deeds, the sins of the oppressed person will be loaded on him.’”

Education is one thing that we need for political, economic and social empowerment. Mankind is yet to invent an alternative to that.

Pellet gun is one of many things that oppresses people from educational and social aspects. Your government is yet to invent a viable alternative to that. It continues to kill and main young boys whom you want to join schools.

In that context it looks sinister that while there is a hue and cry about everything, no one is able to speak about the nearly 2 million students missing their one year. We invent reasons for and against every imaginable situation but schools is nobody’s business, especially after you decided to make an example out of me.

In that context it looks sinister that while there is a hue and cry about education, no one (in government) is able to speak about dozens of school-children falling to bullets and pellets, hundreds losing eyesight, thousands injured and countless facing mental trauma. You invent undue reasons for every imaginable situation that disrupts ‘normalcy’, but it’s not your business to deploy armed forces in schools, especially after you decided to make an appeal for their opening.

But I would beseech you to kindly go 75 years back in time and imagine yourself in place of the teenagers for whom you had set such a great example of personal struggle from Sopore to Lahore.

But I would beseech you to kindly go 75 months back in time and imagine yourself in opposition of the Abdullah-led government when you had set such an example of pro-people voice from Qazigund to Uri.

I’m quoting another earthy parable to end this submission. As you know sir I am from a peer family like you. My uncle was a practicing peer and highly respected. He would lead the prayers in the Masjid built on the periphery of our premises.

I’m quoting another earthy parable to end this response. As you may know sir I am from a Kashmiri family like you. My uncle was an educationist and highly respected. He would teach any subject very well in a school on the periphery of your chief minister’s house.

Afzal Mir would never turn up for Nimaz. No one had spotted him near the mosque ever. One day when my uncle entered the mosque he was sweetly surprised to see Afzal making loud supplication. But soon he turned to him tersely reprimanding Afzal for the sole item on his wish list. He was invoking Allah for sending him a daand- a bull. “Is this what you came to the mosque for? How can you pray for a bull?”

A tenth class student would always turn up for class. No one would spot him in corridors ever. One day when my uncle entered the class he was anxiously surprised to see the student absent. Soon he enquired from other students, but no one had a clue. Later, when my uncle was invoking Allah for protecting the young bright boy, the school principal came to the class and asked him, “Is this what you come to the school for? How can you pray for a student inside the class?”

My uncle was furious. Afzal very tamely asked; what should I ask for, Peer sahib? Pray for Eemaan, Peer sahib advised. Afzal very innocently replied: But peer sahib I have got eemaan, that’s why I am praying for a bull which I don’t have. You ask for eemaan if you don’t have that.

My uncle was furious, and left the school premises immediately. Outside, a hawker caught his attention, who shouted the big news of the day – killing of a young boy. My uncle inquired only to see his student Tufail Matoo’s dead body on the front page.

Sir I am praying for education for we don’t have it though we do well in most other fields. Among 34 states of India we are at 33. Can’t we have a modest but more achievable target as a Muslim majority state to convert the wish of our Prophet (SAWS) to become number one by implementing his command: Seeking knowledge is the duty of every Muslim man and woman?

Sir I am praying for human rights for we don’t have it and it’s the prerequisite for education. Can’t your ‘democratically elected’ government have a modest but more achievable target to end the Kashmir conflict, keeping in view the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, to convert the wish of our Prophet (SAWS) for a just living.

Can we with our present performance card face Him on the day of reckoning, you Jenab Geelani sahib as the David in the present equation and me as the Goliath, you as the angel of Azadi and me as the devil of subjugation? I believe the goal can be achieved while you keep your mission statement intact.

Can you with your present performance card face the people on the day of ‘azadi’, you Jenab Naeem sahib as the preacher in the present equation and me as the instigator of violence, you as the messiah and me as the devil of stone-pelting? I believe the goal can be achieved while you keep your promises.

I wish every child of Kashmir outperforms my children who are very well placed in life. Education saved them and many others from the fate of Insha and Junaid. It has this ability to keep people out of harm’s way like all of us, politicians, leaders, preachers, professionals, officers, journalists, writers, businessmen et al.

I wish every child of Kashmir excels in his / her professional field. Insha and Junaid were well-performing students but education didn’t save them, actually nothing saved them from pellets. Nothing in Kashmir has the ability to keep people out of harm’s way, no matter if they are students, teachers, journalists, businessmen, doctors, engineers, et al.

I am sure if I meet you again in life you would show the same affection that you always displayed towards me. I still feel the warmth of your kisses on my forehead whenever we met and truly believe my assassin would have to target some other part of my body for my forehead bears a love mark planted by you.

I am sure if we see you in opposition again in life you would show the same concern that you always displayed towards people. I still remember those kind words in newspapers whenever you wrote and truly believe your government would have to target the media from one aspect or the other for it bears witness to pellet marks made by your forces.

The author’s note: Mr. Naeem Akhtar, although I am a working journalist, I am yet to complete my post-graduate course in journalism. Only a few months back, the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir spoke at an event in my university campus about the press freedom. Almost all prominent speakers encouraged us to strive for a free press. But how would we? Leading newspaper Kashmir Reader, which is a role-model for aspiring journalists, is banned on the pretext that its content may incite violence. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am arrested for this or any other write-up. I wonder if truth is suppressed on that pretext, where are we heading towards and what would our education mean to us? Perhaps you have the freedom to speech and I don’t. Anyways, I don’t oppose education in this write-up but I seek a peaceful and permanent solution to Kashmir conflict which will make education continue without disruption.

Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa is the founder / editor of JandK Now