What could be the happiest moment for a teacher than seeing his untiring efforts bear fruit? In this remote village of Aadbal, nestled in the mountains, in Shopian district, Bashir Ahmad Lone, a teacher, is a familiar name. His first batch of students from this educationally backward area has reached the college level. The batch is also the first college going from the area where till years back people used to prefer livestock rearing and manual labouring for their children over education.
The feat didn’t come suddenly and on its own. It was the dedication, enthusiasm and even sacrifice of Lone as he nearly lost his life in a wildlife attack while coming back from school.
Lone, an in-charge head-teacher since 2006 had to trek hilly stretches on foot to reach his school at Aadbal village in Sedow area of the district. Before becoming a government ReT teacher, he was voluntarily working under the education guarantee scheme (EGS) for a period of two years.
EGS is an educational scheme of the Government of India to improve access to primary education, especially for children from very poor households and in scattered settlements.
Lone said after working tirelessly for two years without a proper school building, he started door-to-door campaigning to impress upon parents that education of their children is more precious than cattle rearing and labour. He succeeded in the mission and saw overwhelming support from the local populace.
After witnessing a rise in student enrollment, the administration set up a primary school in the village. Given Lone’s years of hard work, he was also inducted as Rehbar-e-Taleem (ReT) teacher.
Though he got fruits of his hard work, luck didn’t go with him. After two years of his posting as ReT teacher, Lone was attacked by a black bear on his way back home from school.
The bear attack had disfigured Lone's face and even after plastic surgery the injuries are visible on his face. “I was grievously injured in the attack and sustained 260 stitches on my face, head and chest.”
He was discharged from SKIMS after two months; however, it took him three years to recover.
“People donated blood for me, such were the grievous wounds that took me three years to recover after having plastic surgery on my face,” he said.
The teacher said within three months he resumed his duties in the same school, but his family arranged a vehicle to drop him and pick him from the school.
The treatment cost him all his savings besides he had to take a bank loan as well for the plastic surgery.
“Still I have uncleared bank debt which I borrowed for the treatment but thank God, I survived and I am very much healthy to make educationally and economically backward children literate,” he said.
Lone told Rising Kashmir that he was happy when he was not transferred from the said school after the bear attack.
“I have been posted in the area since 2006 and those children whom I taught in primary school are now college going students,” he said. This has been to my satisfaction, he added.
Now, more than a decade from the day he was attacked, his school has been upgraded to middle school from upper primary and has over 100 students on roll. Seeing them, he says, he feels proud.
However, he has a complaint. “I was only provided Rs 3000 after the attack, that too by the wildlife department. Education department didn’t pay a single penny to me despite being on duty when attacked,” he said.
The teacher said every week particularly in spring season, he along with other teachers carries out door-to-door awareness programmes where parents are motivated to send their wards to school.
Sedow’s Aadbal village comprises around 100 households surrounded by dense forests and meadows. The village connects Shopian with Kulgam district and is around a mile away from the famous waterfall of Aharbal.
The main source of livelihood in the area comes from livestock grazing or manual labouring.
Since the area is situated in the woods of Sedow and close to Hirpora wildlife sanctuary, the movement of wild animals is often witnessed.
Even now the student attendance in schools in this tribal area remains below 50 per cent since the people migrate to upper reaches like Rainuer for grazing livestock and they take children with them. However the school where Lone teaches has a satisfactory attendance of children.
However, Lone says there are many challenges which need to be overcome to increase enrollment particularly of girls.