In Kashmir, the hills are alive with the sound of schooling

By: AFP      Published: 09:33 PM, 29 Jul, 2020
In Kashmir, the hills are alive with the sound of schooling

Sitting cross-legged and hunched over her textbooks in a lush meadow surrounded by mountains and pine trees, Tasleem Bashir can hardly contain her joy at being back at school.

The 14-year-old is among hundreds of students attending open-air classes in Doodhpathri, high above Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir, as the coronavirus continues to cripple life in the country.

"It feels so good to have school in this fresh air. At home I didn't study much because there were many house chores to do," Bashir said. 

"After classes, I sit around with friends and we also play together before walking back home," she told AFP.

The relief is obvious for everyone involved in the classes in the clouds held at an altitude of 2,730 metres (9,000 feet).

Parents and grandparents walk or carry their children up a slope to the flat patch of grass ahead of the daily classes.

Children run to a glacier-fed stream to dip their feet in the cool water during breaks, while others jump in after classes for a bath before heading home.

Even before the coronavirus epidemic, schooling in restive Kashmir had been severely disrupted by a strict curfew imposed almost a year ago when New Delhi stripped the Muslim-majority region of its semi-autonomy.

With India now the third-most infected nation in the world -- with almost 1.5 million infections -- it is not yet clear when classes will restart.

Unable to afford smartphones, and with limited internet access in remote villages, many students were unable to attend online lessons.

So parents turned to the education department, pleading for help.