Under police surveillance, students and principal of Kashmir's Siraj-ul-Uloom feel their school is being targeted

On 13 October, the Jammu and Kashmir Police said that it arrested three teachers from the Siraj-ul-Uloom Educational Institute under the Public Safety Act, in Imam Sahib Shopian. The police claimed that such a step was taken after it found that some of the institute's teachers were involved in militant activities.

Kashmir's Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Vijay Kumar said at a press conference said the school is affiliated with the banned Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) outfit. JeI was banned in February 2019, by the Ministry of External Affairs, citing ‘unlawful activities, ‘prejudicial to internal security and public order’ as the main reasons behind the ban.

The 'teachers'

Mohammad Yousuf Wani, 65-year-old from Mala Dair is one of the accused in the case. Surrounded by apple orchards, Mala Dair village is 14 kilometres from the Shopian district, and is home to 216 households. The people in this area are mostly apple-growers. His family said Wani was arrested in March this year for his involvement in Jamaat-i-Islami. She said Wani had left the organisation at the time it was banned.

"He has not been part of it after falling ill."

A relative of Wani claims that he was working in a mess some years ago in Siraj-ul-Uloom, and was not teaching in the school. He was released on bail on 17 August. As per the family, he was released after his health worsened in jail. His bail application also reads that Wani is suffering from diabetes and hypertension.

A few kilometres from Mala Dair, 32-year-old Rouf Ahmad Dar from Khurram Pora Trenz is the second person whose name has popped up in the school controversy. Dar was slapped with provisions of the Public Safety Act on 19 July. A relative, who wished to remain anonymous, said they are not sure whether Dar is the same person named by the police. To make matters worse, the police too didn't confirm his identity.

A teacher takes a class at Siraj-ul-Uloom. Firstpost/Quratulain Rehbar

Dar was a postgraduate student of Arabic and before his arrest, he was preparing for the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET). “He was never a part of that school. He has studied in different schools from the district and he was not a member of teaching staff there,” his family said. This correspondent visited the school and spoke to the principal of Siraj-ul-Uloom, Farooq Ahmad. He refuted the claims that Dar or Wani were associated with the institute. “We never had any teachers with such names working in our school,” he said.

Siraaj-ul-Uloom

Located in Hillow village, a nondescript village of apple orchards, in the Imam Sahib area of Shopian district of south Kashmir, the educational institute is at stone's throw from a police station and two garrisons, belonging to the army and CRPF respectively.

The school is spread on vast 121 kanals of land (one kanal is approximately 500 square metres) and has also an apple orchard in the campus, which, as per them, also helps with the institute's income. Coming from different parts of Jammu and Kashmir, almost 620 students are enrolled in this institute, from Class 5 onwards. Besides the main focus on the Quran and Arabic teaching, the courses include Arts, medical and non-medical streams.

Ahmad, the principal, said that the institute’s income comes from the fees of students, the orchards, and the donations from locals — which the administration is already investigating.

“We have shown them the papers; we are just simple people who want to give their students the basic religious and modern education. Our syllabi are that of the board and University of Kashmir,” said another teacher at the same school. Since the day the institute has been under surveillance, the teachers and students' routine has been affected.

Besides claiming that they never had any teacher by the names mentioned by the police, the teachers say the 13 people wholater joined the militancy are not recent students associated with the institute. Furthermore, all of them have been killed. Ahmad added, "As per their school records, some of them have studied here in the past for not more than a year and left their studies midway."

He said that since the establishment of the institute in 2000, many officials have been invited by the institute on various occasions. “We have students who have become police officers as well and who dream of becoming IPS officers in future. We don’t brainwash them.” he said.

The exteriors of Siraj-ul-Uloom. Firstpost/Quratulain Rehbar

The students

The school authorities are cooperating with the police investigation. However, the students studying in the institute say they are being disturbed, after their school came under surveillance. “We trust our teachers. They will handle this situation. But for the past few days the army is repeatedly coming here to take pictures and videos. We are not comfortable with all that,” said a 17-year old student of Class 10.

The teachers claim, "[The soldiers] would usually come in the past to play with the students, but right now it is a different thing: Students panic when they are captured on video,” said one of the teachers. The school has 150 members of teaching and non-teaching staff from different districts of Kashmir. “We usually check the qualification of the teacher who is applying for the post, but how can we dig into the personal lives of any person?” asked the principal of the school.

Aqib Gani, a student from Banihal, said that he had come a long way from his hometown with a great impression of the school in his mind. “This is a peaceful place. We love playing sports and reading spiritual and modern books,” he said. Referring to an alumnus called Shahid Alim, who gained admission to Cambridge University, Gani said, "He is my inspiration. We have many such alumni who have become doctors, engineers and cracked civil service exams."

Right now the police claims that it is keeping surveillance on the school. And while the school administration is cooperating with the investigation, it fears for the long-term impact on the school's reputation. “We do care about our school's reputation. How parents will interpret all of this is also a matter of concern for us,” Ahmad added.



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