Set up by Maharaja Hari Singh as one of the first five ‘forced’ schools in the pre-1947 Kashmir to impart skills and literacy, Baramulla’s ‘Jabri’ School has today become a vibrant campus of nine schools and probably the only government school in the valley where admission is based on an entrance exam.
The humming of children can be heard as one takes the curve while driving from Cement Bridge towards Azad Gunj, Baramulla. The building on the left side of the curve is not just another school in town, but a repository of important memories. As an unrivaled landmark of old Baramulla, “The College School” has today become a vibrant campus of nine schools, from a ‘Jabri School’.
Back in the day when Baramulla was the Gateway to Kashmir, Jabri schools were opened by Maharaja Hari Singh for imparting education to Kashmiris. However, people were reluctant to send their wards to these schools. To fulfill Maharaja’s decree, the administration led by Wazir-i-Wazarat—the present-day divisional commissioner—would literally drag children to these schools. And therefore the name, Jabri—forced—school was coined.
“Before 1947,” says Khaliq Parveez, a local author and poet, “there was a dire need of educated and skilled labour. So in order to fulfill this need, five Jabri schools were set up in Kashmir. This [Baramulla’s Jabri School] was one among them.”
There was a special team comprising of selected teachers and students who would work as a special task force to drag students out of their houses and bring them to school, the author says.
Over the period of time, the school witnessed the times of peace, the hours of unrest and the years of turmoil, but nothing has stopped its journey of great contribution to the society.
“This institution has a legacy of producing gems,” says Irshada Jaan, headmistress of the school. “It has been a kindergarten to such people who were destined to sit as the top layer of Kashmir.”
Taking out a thick and long register from her cupboard, she starts reading out the names: Abdul Rashid Bhatt, Labour Commissioner; Aijaz Ahmad Kakroo, Advisor to CM; Dr Abdul Hamid Zargar, ex-Skims Director; Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, Divisional Commissioner; Mir Tariq, Director School Education, and the list goes on.
The school was momentarily affected by the explosive political reaction in the old town. With time, says Muneer Ahmad, a former teacher of the school, the roll of students even came down to 58.
“Then in 2015,” he says, “a special team of young teachers was set up to reform this historic institution. I was also a member of that team.”
In order to improve the student attendence in the school, eight schools of nearby localities were clubbed together, including a high school, five primary schools and two middle schools. It took the roll to 108.
The team of teachers took to modern teaching techniques and personality development, with the main focus on kindergartens.
“We collected funds to purchase the much required equipment and build facilities,” Muneer says. “These efforts bore fruit and soon the school was buzzing with students again.”
The roll went on increasing and finally one day the school had to put up a notice No Vacancy to stop insisting parents to pressurize the school authorities to admit their wards there.
It’s most likely the first and the only government school in the Valley where administration had to refuse admission due to the swelling roll of the students. In most of the government schools, however, the situation is the opposite.
“The school had to introduce an entrance test for the students at the KG level, on the style of private schools, as the roll shot up to 300 plus,” Muneer says.
But now, the campus housing nine institutes is struggling due to deficiency of accommodation and increasing number of students.
“We’re studying in one school but we’re tagged different, our mark sheets, our attendance all are separate,” says Adnan Ali, a class X student. “We feel overcrowded when all students are present. There, in fact, is no space left for some students even to sit in the classroom. We make shifts. When one class leaves for games, other students enter the room to attend a lecture there.”
The absence of labs and playground further disheartens students.
“I had formally written to the authorities on sanctioning of a building, conveyed it to the CEO also during his visit, but nothing happened,” says Jameela Showkat, ex-headmistress of the school.
The only solution to this situation, says Abdul Ahad Wani, CEO Baramulla, is to de-club some schools from there.
The move might give a breathing space to the heritage school, but it’s also feared to undo the hard work of the team of young teachers who played a yeomen’s role to replace the growing hush with the increasing hum. Maybe, the authorities can do better than simply undoing what the young teachers did to make it an inspiring government school.
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