There is no one to give an ear to their woes
Thousands of parents in the Kashmir Valley are agitated as private schools demand the tuition and bus fee from them even for the months the valley was under lock down
“...And now they are putting us through the mill. It is gross exploitation,” fumes 34-year-old Basharat Ahmad.
A couple of weeks ago, Ahmad, visited the school of his 4-year-old son to enquire about the resumption of classwork. While Ahmad was provided with no definite information on it, the school management instead gave asked him to deposit the tuition fee since August.
Ahmad, who runs a small stationery shop in the town, is badly off owing to the long-drawn-out lockdown. Although over last one month he opens his shop briefly during unearthly hours in the morning and some times in the evening, only a few customers walk into his shop.
" We are in desperate straits. Our business is running into huge losses. There is no one to give ear to our woes", says Ahmad.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, a principle traders' body in Kashmir, has pegged the economic losses until September to one billion rupees due to the protracted shutdown being observed by the people to protest against the Modi government's egregious move to strip the intermountain region of Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and to split it into two union territories-- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Ahmad asks why he should be made to pay the fee for the period during which the schools were completely shut and there was hardly any academic activity. Like Ahmad, thousands of parents in the Valley are agitated as private schools have started demanding the tuition and bus fee from parents.
Mohammad Altaf, a local cab driver said that he was asked by the school management to deposit Rs 12000 as the tuition fees for the last four months for his three children.
"Although the strike has somewhat slackened now, commercial transport is yet to fully hit the roads. Over the last four months, we have hardly earned anything. We are not able to pay EMIs of our vehicles and the private schools are only adding to our miseries by demanding the fee", said a distraught Altaf.
He added that the school his children went to did not hold classes even for a single day over the past four months.
The government had announced that all the educational institutes up to higher secondary level would be reopened from October 5. The students, however, were not able to attend the schools due to the consistent lockdown and absence of transport on the roads. Although in a few far-off rural areas some government schools resumed normal classwork, the private schools largely remained shut.
Recently the Divisional Commissioner directed private schools to receive only tuition fee from the parents and gave a full waiver of the transportation fee. The Private School Association, Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK), however, has decided otherwise. “We have decided to receive full tuition fee and give a 50 per cent waiver in transport fee”, said G. N. Var, president of PSAJK.
According to Var, the authorities should have taken both the parents and the members of PSAJK on board before taking a call on the issue.
In 2016, Var says, when the Valley remained shut for more or less six months following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the private schools gave a full waiver in both tuition and bus fees to the children of small businessmen and transporters who suffered losses and were grappling with financial troubles.
“We have always accommodated the poor sections of society" Var adds.
On November 28, in response to a PIL, seeking a full waiver of tuition and bus fee during the closure period, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued notices to the government and other respondents including the Director of School Education, Kashmir. The respondents have been asked to file their responses by January 28, 2020.
As protracted strikes in the Valley have become a routine affair over the past decade, the issue of paying tuition and bus fee, during the period lockdowns, between the private school owners and parents keeps cropping up.
In 2015, The Jammu and Kashmir High Court constituted a “committee for fixation of fee of the private schools" with a retired high court judge as its chairman. The Committee, however, is headless since June this year.