Kupwara, Aug 18 (ANI): Salamat wadi is really a quaint little village tucked away in Karalpura block in the border district of Kupwara in Kashmir. I chanced upon this in my travels in this region which is in focus for strategic reasons but very little is in known about how people live, what their problems are and their aspirations for development.
It was a lovely morning, the snow-covered mountains surrounding the village, the birch trees reflecting the gentle sunshine.
As I walked around, strains of a poem, which I had heard in my childhood, wafted through the morning breeze. It seemed to me, that about a hundred children were reciting the words already etched in my heart and mind "'Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tamanna meri... zindagi shamma ki soorat ho khudaya meri... Zindagi ho meri parwane ki soorat yaa rab... Ilm ki shamma se ho mujhko mohabbat yaa rab...'
The words of the gifted poet Allama Iqbal probably resound in the hearts of all Indians and do not require a translation. Still for the few uninitiated, they evoke a sense of a great desire for learning, for spreading the light of knowledge.
Specifically translated it would read as " Let my life be like a light, like a being which is attracted to light... I have this great love for learning, my lord..."
Then I came across the group of children. They were queued up according to their ages or classes I presumed. I realised that I had just come walking upto a school. I learnt that children here are an enthused bunch. They would land up way before school officially opens and sit around the compound, on rocks and stones, waiting for their teachers to begin the day.
What a far cry from students in metros and cities. I do not recall seeing that longing, that energy to go to school for learning! Even without fully understanding the import of Iqbal's poem, which they recite, every morning, they were living its essence! What struck me was the moment, its appropriateness. Iqbal who lived in the beginning of this century hailed from Kashmir and today, a new generation is not just reciting his poems but also probably ingraining the meaning into their young lives.
After the prayers, the teachers armed with blackboards walked across the open ground, which was essentially just rough land surrounding the school building. By no stretch of imagination, can it be called a playground.
Placing these blackboards against the walls of nearby houses, students were divided according to their class and studies began. I was quizzed at why they continued to stand in the open despite a building that I could see at a distance.
A stream was flowing nearby, its waters making a gurgling sound. Quite delightful I thought, what a novel way of conducting classes, in the lap of nature! Except that in this school run by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), this was not a matter of choice but circumstance. realised that both the rooms of the school building were in effect unusable for teaching. One was used as an office while the other was stocked with supplies and items required for making the mandatory Mid-Day meal. I noticed that children had got jute mats or 'boriya' from their homes. They fell into a familiar routine, placing their footwear beneath it and squatting on these mats.
Somehow the words of Iqbal's poem again came to my mind 'Ho mere dam se yoonhi mere watan ki zeenat... jis tarah phool se hoti hai chaman ki zeenat'. (May my life bring beauty to my land.... as flowers make the garden beautiful.)
Sadly this yearning by the students to study, the commitment of the teachers was not matched by infrastructure and support by the government. Why on earth should students anywhere in this country study in the open, never mind the poetic appeal?
Why cannot school buildings especially under the much-touted SSA be adequately constructed to cater to the needs of the students? And of course have space for administrative and other official work as well. I learnt that the land for building the school had been donated by Muhammad Gulzar Shah a villager, who himself is not well-off. He lives in a small ramshackle building with his five children.
What moved Gulzar Shah to donate this piece of land, when he himself is not a rich landowner? Obviously, it is his spirit which wants to see the children of his village being educated, the desire to contribute to the 'Ilm ki shamma' or the light of learning, so evocative in Iqbal's poem.
It was his form of service for the community and indeed the cause of education in this little known block of the border district. The same spirit reflects in the young Sarpanch, Mohd Basheer Ahmad Mir, only 25 years old. He is committed to the welfare of the region which he rues is still backward. He is proud of Muhammad Gulzar Shah and his generous move towards school education. Says Mir that this move has drawn the attention of the local MLA Mir Saifullah who has promised to donate Rs. 2 lakh for renovating the school.
Change is happening gradually, driven essentially by efforts of the local community and of course the redoubtable spirit of the young students. The Sarpanch recalls how the school came up " In 1996, the foundation of a primary school was laid in our village. Before that the students used to walk 2 km to another school.
From 80 students, the numbers have been increasing and the school was upgraded to upper primary school in 2002. Again for a third time, it was upgraded into a middle school."
Still he feels the response from the government has been sorely inadequate. "Today, about 200 children come to this school, yet it continues with only the two rooms that had been constructed initially", he rues.
The children, indeed the people of Salamat wadi have spoken, they have demonstrated their strong spirit to learn, to teach, to create an environment where education can open up young lives.
The Charkha Development Communication Network says the government should keep in step with the momentum and match the dynamism of the people. By Mohd Anis ur Rahman Khan (ANI)
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