If you believe that army in Kashmir is only for killing terrorists, then here is something that will change your perception. 15 out of 30 Kashmiri students are about to enter the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), thanks to the coaching provided by the Indian army.
The lucky students received rigorous coaching for cracking the hard test under ‘Super 30’ scheme launched by the army, taking a cue from the pioneering effort in Bihar where a group of IIT graduates provide free coaching to the poor yet meritorious students.
As soon as the result of the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) was out, the army felicitated students who had passed.
Most of these students belong to economically weaker sections and are from the border districts which have poor education facilities. So far the army has established 46 goodwill schools across the state, most of which are located in border and far flung areas.
These schools were set up realising that Pakistan-sponsored propaganda was targeted at young minds in Kashmir and unless something was done to blunt this, the physical elimination of terrorists alone would not change the situation.
The army decided to change its tactics and get involved in developmental activities in Kashmir. In 1998, it launched Operation Sadhbhavana (Operation Goodwill) with Rs 4 crore fund with an aim of creating opportunities for the young people, particularly in border and underdeveloped areas.
“The idea was to win the hearts and minds of people and to show them we care as against Pakistan’s scheme of unleashing violence and mayhem in the valley,” a retired army officer, who was involved in implementation of the operation told Governance Now.
With a clear vision to help students, the army has also helped in improving facilities at 1,900 state-run schools.
Separatist leader Sayed Ali Shah Geelani had opposed setting up of an army boarding school at Pahalgam. However, there were no takers for his fiat that people should not send their children to these schools.
Interestingly, while Pakistan sponsored terror outfits like Harkat-ul-ansar were responsible for burning hundreds of schools, particularly the girls schools, during peak of insurgency in Kashmir, Islamabad had also launched a propaganda against army schools and Operation Sadhbhavana through its media.
“Today, the popularity of army schools is so much that getting admission there is dream of many parents,” a senior Kashmir-based journalist said.
At present 14,000 students are studying in these schools and about one lakh have already passed out.
Army says it has, so far, spent about Rs 500 crore on Operation Sadhbhavana, which is targeted to “improve the overall core social indices of education, women and youth empowerment, and health care with simultaneous thrust on capacity building through implementation of community/infrastructure development projects.”
The army says all developmental work under Operation Sadhbhavana is framed on the basis of people’s demand and is executed in association with state administration. “The core of Operation Sadhbhavana theme gyrates around aspirations of local populace and India’s national interest,” the army portal states.