Baramulla: Nestled on the fringes of the Line of Control (LoC) in Boniyar sector of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, the remote village of Chautali paints a picture of resilience and determination.
Here, residents face daily hardships in pursuit of education, with the journey to the Government Middle School (GMS) Chautali, the sole educational institution for the villagers, fraught with challenges.
Every morning, Ghulam Qadir accompanies his three-year-old grandson, Muhammad Anwar, to school.
Their trek is no easy feat, as the school is perched atop a height, accessible through narrow alleys and dense bushes. Their journey does not end there. A stream, bridged precariously by a long log of wood, poses a significant hurdle.
In 2018, a child lost his life while attempting to cross the stream. This heartbreaking incident still reverberates in the village's memory, prompting parents and grandparents to escort their children to school each day, unwilling to compromise their safety. Around 200 families reside on the other side of the stream, all relying on the same wooden bridge for their daily commute.
"We have no other option than to accompany our kids to cross this stream because it is a risk to cross it. These kids cannot do it alone so we have to accompany them to school," Ghulam Qadir said.
Wali Muhammad, an elderly resident, emphasised the necessity of enduring these hardships to ensure that their children are not deprived of education.
"We keep ourselves ready to face the challenge of crossing this stream so that our kids go to school every day. If we give up on it, our kids cannot go to school," he said.
On August 10, the Army organised a Tiranga rally at the GMS Chautali and the residents and the students participated in the programme.
The school's narrow alleys and dense bushes served as an arduous but determined path for the residents and school children, who navigated through these obstacles to reach the venue, their excitement evident at every step.
GMS Chautali recently gained renewed attention due to its long-awaited reconstruction.
Having operated from a makeshift arrangement since its building was damaged in the 2005 earthquake, the school's re-construction under the Smridhi Seema Yojana brought a glimmer of hope.
The passion for education burns bright among these residents, despite the challenges.
However, as the students progress to higher grades, a new obstacle emerges.
Post their 8th-grade examinations, the lack of educational facilities in nearby areas leaves them stranded.
The village's struggle for education is evident, as parents, elders, and children alike navigate their way through these hardships.
"This is our main concern here. Over the years we have observed that after the students complete their class 8th exams, the majority of them discontinue their studies as there is no high school located in the vicinity," said Ghulam Qadir.
On top of it, the parents remain apprehensive over the safety of their children who have to cross the stream while walking over the log of wood.
The absence of proper road connectivity compounds their difficulties, leaving around 200 families to rely on the log bridge for access.
"Our villages do not have proper road connectivity. The teachers posted in this school also have to trek around 2 km to reach the school," said Choudhary Muhammad Nazir, an elderly resident of Chautali village.
In recent years, a ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan has brought a semblance of peace to the region, allowing the villagers to shift their focus from mere survival to education and development.
As the residents of Chautali march on with determination, their plea for basic facilities like a stable bridge and proper road connectivity echoes loud and clear.
"We are grateful to the government, particularly the district administration for constructing a new building for the school. But the government should upgrade this school to high school level and also provide other basic facilities to our area," said Muhammad Yousuf, a local.