27 Jan 2021
In a world where autocracy and oppression seem to have made their proverbial summer home, any news of peace and patriotism is likely to be taken with a pinch of salt.
This is what happened when the footage of Republic Day celebrations at an educational institution in one of the most politically volatile districts in the Valley, the Shopian district, first went viral. It’s a first and it’s a positive step and it took a while to sink in.
In what can be termed a turnaround of the century, the first-ever Republic Day celebrations were held at the Islamic school Jamia Siraj ul Uloom in the Hillow village. The one-minute clip depicts students and faculty together standing in rows while ‘Jan Gan Man’ plays in the background and the Tricolour is hoisted amidst salutes.
Siraj-ul-Uloom Educational Institute is located in Hillow village, a nondescript village of apple orchards, in the Imam Sahib area of Shopian district of south Kashmir.
The Jamia Siraj campus is spread over 15 acres of land and the institute offers education from Class V to college degrees in arts and science.
A complete turnaround
What makes the event even more unbelievable is the fact that only a quarter of a year back, the same institution was under the scanner for its ‘unestablished’ links.
In the October of last year, the institute’s name cropped up after the arrest of three men for their alleged JeI (Jamaat-e-Islami) links. As per reports, the three men in question were probed for their alleged association with the institute. The school administration back then denied all links and has maintained throughout that it is in no affiliation with the organization in any capacity. The principal also came on board to say that none of the three men in question ever taught there.
Mohammad Yusuf Wani is a 65-year-old Jamaat-e-Islami activist and former militant. He had worked at Jamia Siraj-ul-Uloom some 10 years ago but as non-teaching staff at the school mess. “How can he be a teacher when he has studied only till Class 7?” demanded his brother, Bashir Ahmad Wani. The family said he had been booked under the Public Safety Act in March but released in August.
Abdul Rouf Bhat’s name is, in fact, Rouf Ahmad Dar. The 32-year-old scholar has been detained since June. The police dossier detailing the charges against him under the Public Safety Act makes no mention of Siraj ul Uloom.
The third man was first arrested briefly in July and then again in September 2020. He had been a student as well as a teacher at Jamia Siraj ul Uloom. But the school recognised him as Abdul Haq Bhat, not Abdul Ahad Bhat.
A senior police official speaking off the record confirmed errors in the names released on October 12. Abdul Ahad Bhat and Abdul Rouf Bhat were indeed Abdul Haq Bhat and Rouf Ahmad Dar, respectively, he said.The family said he had no ties with Siraj-ul-Uloom. Even the Public Safety Act dossier compiled by the Shopian police calls him a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami but does not mention him being a student or teacher of the school. It does mention three first information reports registered against him at the Imam Sahib police station.
Back then Mohammad Yusuf Mantoo, founder and chairman of Jamia Siraj Ul Uloom had said . “And it’s not that these former students joined militancy while they were studying here,” he said. “They joined years after quitting the school. Four thousand students have graduated from this school since 2000. We have 650 students enrolled at present.”
According to Ahmad, the profile of the school alumni was the best answer to anyone raising questions about the kind of education it provided. “We have dozens of students who are doctors, engineers, gazetted officers serving society at different levels across Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. “We also have students who went on to join the police and the army. If this school was involved in indoctrination and anti-national activity, why would we have students whose parents are currently serving in the police, army, BSF and other forces?”
Finally, the Jamaat-e-Islami runs several schools and orphanages in the Valley – when the organisation was banned, the government had said these institutions would not be affected. But Jamia Siraj-ul-Uloom, run by a separate trust, denies any affiliation with the Jamaat.
But social media is skeptical
Was it heartfelt or forced? Could it be staged or what if things had truly changed? Amidst redefined nationalism and the ever eroding secular structure of the nation, can social media really be blamed for not taking things at face value. Shopian district has always been a hotbed of insurgency. There may be some Kashmiris whose ideas of nationalism and patriotism be in complete alignment with the mainstream definitions.