Kashmir: principal of fire-ravaged Christian school speaks out
by Parvez Samuel Kaul
The school served 500 students, all Muslim. The main damage is to the Muslim community itself. The school belonged to the Church of North India, which has been operating in Kashmir for the past 150 years. An angry mob burns the school’s library and its copies of the Qur‘an.
Tanmarg (AsiaNews) – There are no Christian students in the school burnt down by Muslim fanatics three days ago. “The community we were serving was 100 per cent Muslim,” said bitterly Pravez Samuel Kaul, principal of the Tyndale Biscoe School, which is now but smouldering ashes as a result of the ‘Burn-the Qur‘an’ proposal launched in the United States by Rev Terry Jones. “Ironically, our library had many copies of the Holy Qur‘an,” he said.

Ma Kaul, who is Anglican, has worked in the education field in Kashmir for 26 years. His tale of destruction is also the story of how law enforcement underestimated the situation and moved in too late. It is also the story of how the fundamentalism of so many quickly turned against the school, and themselves. “The impact of the loss [of the school] will be felt firstly by Muslims themselves,” Kaul said. Here is what he told AsiaNews.”

The Tyndale Biscoe School belongs to Church of North India and is a branch of the Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson Educational Society in Jammu and Kashmir.

The school in Tanmarg, which is to the north-west of Srinagar, was designed to serve the people living in this rural area. Tanmarg is completely rural and there are no Christians. The community we served was 100 per cent Muslim. Our society, the Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson Educational Society, has been here since 1880. It was our contribution to rural society, providing holistic values based on quality secular education. All of our staff, teaching and non-teaching, is also made up of Muslims.

The burning of our school is the immediate result of the outrage caused by the proposal to burn the Qur‘an in the United States.

On Sunday night, in Kashmir, the local Masjid (mosque) showed a video-clip from an Iranian news channel of the reported desecration. After the mosque called for a mass gathering, people stayed out until 4 am of the next day.

The local authorities did nothing, assuming people would disperse after the protest. Our request for security went unheeded.

The crowd grew until 15-20,000 people marched on to the school, which is just one kilometre and half away from where the gathering took place. When they arrived, they began vandalising the building, and then set it on fire. The whole three-storey structure with 26 classrooms, library, and computer labs burnt down to the ground.

Ironically, our library had various copies of the Qur‘an. In half an hour, the building was gone since it was made of wood.

Before burning it, the mob vandalised it. Ours was a beautiful school—we had just finished painting it two weeks ago. It was spread over three acres but now it stands desolate and ravaged.

The destruction is the product of uncontrolled fanaticism. I was told that during that the attack by the angry mob, someone asked, “Why should a Christian school be present in our village?”

Our founder, Mr Biscoe, believed in empowering people through education. This school in rural Kashmir has been serving Kashmir’s rural society for the past 150 years. Currently, our school was serving 150 villages, all Muslims. The impact of the loss will be felt firstly by Muslims themselves. Across Kashmir, our organisation is connected to at least 7,000 families, all Muslim.

I sincerely pray that religious leaders may preach love for their neighbours. Sadly, many think like fundamentalists, something that leads to all sorts of incidents.

It is sad to say that on the day of Eid, thousands and thousands of people were outside our campus in Srinagar. At the gathering, Muslim leaders slammed the ‘Burn-the Qur‘an’ campaign, but they also acknowledged publicly the contributions made by Christians to Kashmiri society. They also emphasised how the tiny Christian community has contributed a lot in the fields of education and health care.

Regrettably, the next day, people in this rural corned of Kashmir were incited to unleash their fury against our school.

(Shefali Prabhu contributed to the article)