Earlier this month, Oct. 11 marked the international day of the girl child, a slightly clumsy moniker for a noble endeavour that aims to help girls all over the world take ownership of their own future. The most critical way to empower these girls is through the provision of an education that breaks the shackles of inequality and misogyny while fuelling their progression in life.
Concern over girls in education is both perennial and varied. In the west there is the, almost comically first world, concern about girls outperforming boys, to such an extent that in the United Kingdom nearly three quarters of applicants to read law at undergraduate level are girls – the concern is for the boys but it shows how far we have come in some very fortunate countries; whereas elsewhere, girls are denied education through war, famine, poverty or the deliberate warping of religious teaching. There is also everything else in between. Girls’ access to a quality education is retarding in some places, improving in others and collapsing elsewhere. There are reasons for hope and reasons for despair.
When the world thinks of girls in education on the subcontinent, most western minds quickly conjure up a picture of Malala and the associated tales of the deprivation of female education in Muslim countries. Yet, when we talk about girls’ education in the context of South Asia and the very need to increase our efforts and seriousness about this particular theme, it might be worth shining a light on the plight of girls in the blighted, battered and beautiful Kashmir administered by India.
Perhaps the most pressing concern for young girls in the subcontinent is not the denial of education by militants (the Taliban shot Malala while she attended state provided education) but rather, girls being denied education by agents of a supposedly multi-faith state. One might posit, that concern over girls in education in Kashmir, while being worthy, is perhaps not their most important worry as violence and suppression reign and all-out war lurks. But it is a vital concern and perhaps one that if addressed would help Kashmir emerge from its bleak, bloody, interminable geopolitical slogging match and onto its own broad sunlit uplands.
Kashmir is being kept in the dark ages. In the dark ages, girls were not educated and even the very thought of such an enterprise was considered close to blasphemy. And that’s the sad reality we are encountering today in Kashmir.
The June 2018 United Nations report on Human Rights in Indian administered Kashmir paints a woeful picture of girls’ education where a combination of strikes, curfew, oppression and protests have meant there are no schools for girls to attend even if they felt safe enough to do so. Performance is way behind the rest of India and levels of mental disturbance are top of the league. To enable their education would be to offer these girls hope.
Far worse than not being educated, there are an increasing number of reports emanating from the region that describe Kashmiri girls undergoing atrocities far worse than the deprivation of school. Every claim from every side in Kashmir has its own counterclaim and the truth gets lost and people die or are tortured amid the multiplicities of narrative and accusation. What is not in contention is that the valley had been besieged for 10 weeks on International Girl Child day and during this time no girls were allowed to go to school. Waves of accusations point to kidnappings, beatings, torture and rape.
It is arrogant, unwise and ultimately fruitless for outsiders whether they be individuals, countries or organisations to interfere or indeed pass judgement on Kashmir; it is an Indian paradox wrapped in a Pakistani enigma hidden in a colonial riddle. What is not contentious is for anyone from any side to demand that the innocent girls of Kashmir have access to an education that might improve their future, while it is fought over by those who seemingly have no concern for it.
For Indian forces to offer safe passage to these girls and their teachers would be a considerable gesture of peace, conciliation and humanity and perhaps convince the world that despite all the geopolitical games that have their nexus in Kashmir, the stakeholders have the best interests of these people – and their daughters – in the forefront of their minds. We live in hope, perhaps naively- but it is all we can do.
Contributed by :
– Robert Gallimore is a former British war veteran and a security consultant with particular expertise in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is currently finishing his book on the Pakistan Army to be published next year.