Homeland Security

Contribution of Army Goodwill Schools towards Development of J&K
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 18 Apr , 2024

The contrast couldn’t be more telling. While the people of J&K ushered 2024 with the good news that students of Army Goodwill School in Wuzur, Anantnag had won two gold medals in the prestigious all-India innovative projects development competition, those living across the Line of Control [LoC] were out on the streets in the bitter cold, protesting against the pathetic state of education in Pakistan occupied J&K [PoJK].

The Army Goodwill Schools in J&K are transforming education, providing quality and affordable schooling in areas with inadequate facilities.

Army Goodwill schools which have played an important role in changing the union territory of J&K’s educational landscape have an interesting history. The advent of terrorism in the nineties turned the lives of those living in J&K upside down and while the violence that ensued grabbed the headlines, few outsiders were aware that education was one of the worst hit sectors.

Before Pakistan army’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence [ISI] sent Kalashnikov wielding youth into Kashmir Valley to create mayhem in the garb of a so called “freedom struggle,” was the epitome of communal harmony and traditionally it was the educated section of the Kashmiri Pandit [KP] community that formed the backbone of the education system.

However, widespread targeted killing of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) by ISI sponsored terrorists resulted in the exodus of this minority indigenous community from the Kashmir Valley in 1990. Schools were forcibly closed and the pro-Pakistan lobby undertook a massive recruitment programme of luring youth to pick up guns and all this caused serious disruption in education. Though the Indian army extended help to schools in the areas where it was deployed, being an ad hoc arrangement, the scope of this assistance was limited.

In 1998, Udhampur based Northern Command commenced opening of Army Goodwill Schools [AGS] under ‘Project Sadbhavana’ with the aim of providing quality and affordable education to local children from financially weaker sections living in remote areas where educational facilities were inadequate or non-existent. Even though purely a welfare measure with the well intentioned aim of providing education to local students, this initiative nevertheless faced stiff opposition from influential people pursuing their motivated agendas.

Despite initial opposition and propaganda, these schools have become recognized centers of excellence, with significant enrollment and positive impact on students’ development.

AGS Wuzur itself makes an interesting case study. Despite adequate publicity, when AGS Wuzur opened in 1998, only 40 students enrolled which considering the huge population of school going children in that area, is as good as negligible. Many parents were anxious to send their wards to this school, but the virulent propaganda unleashed by ISI’s extensive network of ‘over ground workers’ [OGWs] dissuaded many of them from doing so. Rumours were circulated that the AGS programme was actually a devious plan to promote waywardness by undermining the religious beliefs and cultural values of Kashmiri youth.

However, with passage of time locals realised that they had been misled by the separatists and pro-Pakistan lobby and today APS Wuzur is not only a well subscribed institution upto Class XII but is also a recognised “center of excellence” for education and personality development. Other AGS in the union territory of J&K too are doing well, and their popularity can be gauged by the fact that with a modest beginning with just four primary-level AGS in 1998, their number has today increased to a whopping 45, and strength of students has swelled to approximately 14,500 students.

That all this has been achieved despite continuing propaganda from separatists and terrorist threats is indeed praiseworthy. Here it would be pertinent to mention that instead of appreciating the collective good that the AGS initiative is doing for the young students of J&K, senior All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] leader SAS Geelani had in 2017, asked parents not to send their children to AGS, and his reasoning was ludicrous.

He alleged that ” [Army] Goodwill schools are part of their [Indian army’s] long-term policy to strengthen occupation,” adding that “They are psychologically preparing our new generation to accomplish their nefarious designs.” Not only this, Geelani even condemned the overwhelming public endorsement of AGS and tried to play the emotional card by saying that “For petty material gains, we are losing our next generation.” However, despite his exalted status and claim of being the true representative of Kashmiris, the public paid no heed to the separatist leader’s AGS boycott call.

Leaders like SAS Geelani and terrorist groups have attempted to discourage attendance at these schools, but their efforts have been largely ineffective…

Two years later, proscribed terrorist group Hizbul Mujahideen tried to coerce people against sending their children to AGS. They put up posters in several villages of Shopian district threatening parents of dire consequences if they continued to send their children to AGS.

However, just like Geelani’s irrational appeal, the HM’s threat of bodily harm too fell on deaf ears and ‘Mission AGS’ has proved to be a resounding success.

In retrospect, Geelani’s morbid predictions about AGS alumni haven’t come true. Conversely, AGS is ensuring that its students get quality education as well develop confidence, positive attitude and grit to face tomorrow’s challenges with aplomb.

By achieving greater heights in the field of academics and co-curricular activities, AGS pupils hold the promise of a brighter future for J&K!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Nilesh Kunwar

is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur.

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