Umar Shah | Apr 29, 2019 | 6 min read
Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir: In the midst of the damp earth giving out a putrid odour and clouds of mosquitoes from whose buzzing and strings is no respite, a cluster of hutments of Rohingyas stretches in Bathandi camp located in the outskirts Jammu- winter capital of India’s northern Jammu and Kashmir state.
Outside of the dust inundated hutments, there are piles of shoes lined up in a corner and inside are kids no older than 6 years, wearing blue color tunics and shirts, staring in unison towards a black color board.
Teen sheets strained with rust and wooden blocks have been used to erect temporary structures in which hundreds of Rohingya kids are struggling to get education amid the unfavourable and hostile situation.
Inside one such hutment, Mohammad Tahir, a 22-year-old Rohingya Muslim who has dedicated himself to provide kids of his community an education, excitedly asks the children to recognize different fruits. “See, they know it. They even recognise colours and have memorised alphabets from A to Z,” he says, smiling.
Sitting in a front row is 4-year-old Tasleema Akhtar. She is making herself heard with a singular distinction by pronouncing the names of Papaya, Orange and Guava correctly.
Tasleema is one of the thousands of Rohingya kids whose parents fled their native Rakhine following violence against them and discriminatory treatment in the Buddhist-majority state. But she knows Rakhine only through her mother’s lullabies and imagines it as a land “full of fruits, rivers and fishes.” Her parents fled their home state in the year 2012. Tasleema was born two years later in 2014 in a refugee camp of Jammu.
“It is her first week in the school and she has dazzled us all through her fine wit. She is quite good at mathematics and has a very impressive memory,” says Mohammad Tahir..
This Rohingya Muslim vividly remembers the prosecution his community had to face at the hands of the Burmese government and says he still gets flashbacks of blazing villages and crying women. He was 19 when he along with his two brothers and aged parents left the Rakhine state, walked the treacherous terrains for days and finally reached India. The family was suggested by their guide in New Delhi to go to Jammu and join other Rohingya Muslims there. “We were told that the weather here is tolerable and we will get good wages. And then we decided to put up in Jammu,” recalls Tahir.
According to government figures, 1,219 Rohingya families, comprising 5,107 family members, live in Jammu and Kashmir, 4,912 of whom hold UNHCR cards.
However, various Hindu groups who demand their deportation are accusing that the actual number of the refugees could be much higher as thousands have succeeded in infiltrating into the state through illegal means.
On several occasions, the hutments were attacked by the unruly mobs in the past and open calls by various pro-Hindu parties were made, asking people to rise in revolt against the settlement of these Rohingya Muslims in the state.
Tahir says soon after the vicious campaigns against his community were launched, the government run schools start denying admission to Rohingya kids. Schools would say that parents of other kids object to Rohingya children studying in same classes. “ When we objected to such assertions, they came up with another excuse and cited language barrier between the local teachers of the state and Rohingya kids as the prime reason.,” says Tahir.
Being a 12th class pass out in Humanities stream, Tahir begun confabulating with other educated Rohinga youth of the camp, deliberating over the ways needed to provide children the much needed education. “It would have been criminal to stay silent at such a crucial juncture of our lives. We discussed many ways and then popped up the idea of developing our own litle preparatory schools where kids can be trained enough that they can directly get admission in higher classes,” recalls Tahir.
He himself and three other youth who had passed 10th class volunteered for the cause and drafted syllabus for the new school. “We ensured that the school will train the kids in basics like writing numbers, alphabets, speaking rhymes and recognising colours. We believe that once equipped with basic knowledge, the mainstream schools will have no reason to. Deny these kids an admission,” Tahir said.
A non- government organization, Sakhawat Centre, which had been providing basic facilities like clothing, water and medicines to the hutments was also contacted by these youth and the proposal to establish a school in one of the hutments was discussed. “It was a very positive idea and we decided to provide kids books, uniform and stationary items. Such was the enthusiasm of the youth that they persuaded 50 parents to enroll their kids in a single day,” says Mohammad Ashraf, a senior official of the NGO.
He says that the matter of admitting the Rohingya kids in government run schools was taken up with the school authorities and they have agreed to take these kids in once they are able to write and speak properly. “We are training these kids for higher classes and make them able to cope up with other students,” Mr Ashraf added.
“We have seen enough, faced enough and borne enough. It was because our community was ignorant of its rights that we were slaughtered and our homes were set on fire. We will not allow our next generation to face the same ordeal as we faced,” says Masood Ahmad, a 19- year old Rohingya Muslim who teaches at the camp.
For him, it would be nonetheless a heinous crime to leave these young Rohingya kids uneducated in the world where he says education is the only effective weapon to raise voice against injustice and seek rights.
“Even if it takes 20 years for us to go back to Myanmar, these young kids should go as educated human beings knowing in entirety their rights and entitlements so that unlike their parents they aren’t made to suffer and prosecuted with impunity,” says Tahir.
As over a year has passed since a school was established in midst of the refugee camps, Tahir says there are more than 100 kids being trained to speak and write properly and recognize pictures of animals, fruits and vegetables. “We don’t know how far we can go with this endeavor but it is the hope of getting ourselves out of the squalid conditions that makes us face all the ordeals stoically,” says Tahir.
Noor Alam, an elderly Rohingya Muslim in the camp says the school has given the people of his community a hope of better future. He says it took him years to understand the role education plays in person’s life. “Our kids will go to Myamar now as educated human beings and by virtue of education, they will not be humiliated, ridiculed, tortured and prosecuted as we were in our home state,” says 56- year- Noor Alam.
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