Kashmir schools reopen, but for troops

bsf-kashmir- An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier sits inside a truck upon arrival with others in Srinagar on Tuesday, to join thousands of federal forces and local policemen already deployed in the Kashmiri capital to contain a 46-day-old unrest | AFP

As Kashmir continues to simmer, Border Security Forces have set up camps in 20 government schools and vital installations in Srinagar and other places. This is for the first time in 12 years that BSF is replacing CRPF in Srinagar.

Kashmir has been in the throes of separatist agitation sparked by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani and two of his associates on July 8 in Anantnag in south Kashmir. The protests have resulted in the death of 68 people, including two policemen, and over 5,000 have been injured, many of them blinded and crippled by pellets.

The decision to house paramilitary forces in schools comes just a day after Education Minister Naeem Akhtar announced reopening of government schools in Kashmir and a day before Home Minister Rajnath Singh's arrival in Srinagar. The Union minister will hold talks with various groups of people to try and diffuse the crisis.

The BSF has taken over school buildings at Gupta Ganga, Nishat, Kralkhud, Kothi Bagh, Panthachowk, Rainawari, Maharaj Gunj, Safa Kadal, Karan Nagar, Lal Bazaar, Jawahar Nagar, Shutra Shahi, Channapora, B.K. Pora Nowgam. The CRPF have also occupied several school buildings across Kashmir.

Most of the forces, sources said, will be used to dominate areas in south Kashmir—Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian, and Kulgam—which has emerged as the epicenter of the ongoing agitations.

Most civilian deaths, attacks on police and government installations have taken place in south Kashmir, base of the PDP. The central forces also took over the security of 50 vital installations and deployed manpower.

The troops have encircled playgrounds of the schools with barbed wires and classrooms have been filled with sleeping cots. The BSF has fortified the buildings and rifles pop out of windows. This is reminiscent of the 90s when militancy was rampant in Kashmir and forces had occupied government buildings turning them into camps and interrogation centers.

Inspector General (IG) BSF, Kashmir frontier, Vikas Chandra told reporters that the forces have set up camps at different places as the government had asked it to replace CRPF. "We have taken over four schools in Srinagar—S.P. Higher Secondary School, DAV School and two more schools in Nishat and Bemina," he said.

Director of Education Shah Faesal, the first Kashmiri to top IAS examinations, offered no comments. The separatists have condemned the government decisions to convert schools into camps. "BSF and paramilitary CRPF troopers have occupied various key government and semi-government schools," Syed Ali Geelani Tweeted.

The BSF had vacated school buildings after 2002, when Mufti Muhammad became chief minister of the state for the first time after dislodging NC from power. But the force has once again taken over government and a few private schools at a time when his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, is heading a highly unpopular coalition of PDP and BJP. The force conducted anti-militancy operations in Kashmir from 1991 to 2004 and was replaced in Srinagar by CRPF.

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