Real story behind the burning of Tydale Biscoe School, Tangmarg, Kashmir
Christian schools have been popular throughout Kashmir since late 1800’s when the first Church Mission Society (CMS) named as Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson Society, CMS was established first at Drugjan and later at Sheikh Bagh Srinagar. Formal modern schooling with a dynamic spirit of service was introduced for the first time by this school. Despite earlier resistance for Christian Missionary Schools and especially the strong opposition to the education of the girl child, Kashmir emerged as one of foremost regions to adopt, adjust and follow up a holistic pattern of educational ideas alien to its culture by Tyndale Biscoe and come out tops. Even today Christian-run schools are seen to have maximum aspirants seeking admissions in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as in other parts of the country.
Then what really took place that led to burning of Tyndale Biscoe’s rural school located in Tangmarg?
Shocking disclosure, of allegations against Tangmarg’s MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir alleged to be in cahoots with army and charged the winds of rebellion to oust the democratically elected government of NC- Congress headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, has been an open secret for most Kashmiris. Allegations of the MLA having accepted money, to incite innocent villagers from his constituency and intensifying violence leading to a crazed mob’s torching of rural Tyndale Biscoe school is a stark reminder that there is a surface calm in Kashmir that can be triggered by the tiniest spark. The school’s burning stands as an example of ‘emotions on an edge’ even today.
Tyndale Biscoe School, a rural branch of Srinagar’s main branch, close to Gulmarg–catered to students from nearly 150 villages imparting valued added modern education.
When Omar Abdullah, the young Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, had faced a question from a perturbed Christian delegation in 2010, post the burning of this school – “Does your government want to see Christian schools in Kashmir anymore?” The troubled CM had replied, ‘More than half my secretariat has grown up and studied in the Tyndale-Biscoe and Mallinson School’. ‘Is this a question!’ he had growled.
The CM of one of the most troubled states in India had never forgotten that his father Dr Farooq Abdullah now Union minister in UPA was an alumnus of this august school as also J&K’s respected Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed besides producing some of the best and brightest students who have created a niche for themselves in the country and abroad. Of course Omar’s Grandfather Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s deep regret at not being a part of the school during Biscoe’s time was strongly etched in Omar’s memory. The Sheikh, upon the death of Biscoe, declared it as a personal loss besides a terrible loss for the people of Kashmir.
The question to CM was posed in relation to the torching of Tyndale Biscoe School in Tangmarg by a mob in 2010 following a clip by an Islamic TV channel showing a white man in US, burning a book attributed to be the holy Koran on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks. “In the school fire, seven copies of the Holy Koran too were burnt,” contended the Church of North India (CNI) Diocese’s Bishop Rev P K Samantaroy who controls CMS institutions in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
Post this incident of arson, government promised compensation of Rs 8 crore to the Tangmarg school – named after Rev Cecil Canon Tyndale Biscoe and Miss Mallinson- but after a mere preliminary sum of Rs one crore, and some pre-fabricated modular huts to run the school, they hardly took the redressal to its promised conclusion, contended the Amritsar based Bishop and Srinagar based Parvez Samuel Kaul, Director- Principal of Tyndale Biscoe & Mallinson society, Srinagar, who were part of the Christian delegation.
In year 2010, a wave of fierce stone-pelting and retaliatory deaths had botched up the beautiful vale and then came this horrific torching of a rural school by a mob of hundreds in Tangmarg.
BOXReduced to Ashes
On Saturday night, 13th of September 2010, the building of Tyndale Biscoe in Tangmarg was torched.
Hundreds descended to vent their ire on this innocent school building after watching an Iranian channel broadcasting about a white pastor, seen burning a page from a book, purportedly from the Holy Koran, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks in New York, by terrorists.
News of this spread like wildfire and the majestic school building, in the lap of wooded greenery where many a village child found his/her education, went up in angry flames. A distraught Principal Rajinder Kaul of Tyndale Biscoe School Tangmarg, who headed the school from the millennium year of 2000 while showing the remnants of destruction at Shajimarg in Tangmarg rued. “This happened two days after the commemoration of 9/11’s 10th anniversary on September 13, 2010”.
“Ferocious flames engulfed and gutted the entire structure in an area of 19 kanals in which the school stood, built with aim of elevating the standard of education amongst rural children. “Even though a CRPF picket was close by, help came too late”, cried Sabina Yasreen a school teacher, who saw the school grow, adding classes, the library, the laboratory for 13-years, and then saw its total destruction. Tears rolled down her cheeks as well as those of some senior students, as they talked to this writer in the school premises amidst ghastly trunks of 40 charred Deodar trees that helplessly watched as humans turned wild in a fury of destruction.
Bishop Samantaroy in Amritsar , said, “On hearing this devastating news, I immediately set off for Tangmarg from Amritsar, keeping no track of time and reached the next morning, despite stringent checks and halts throughout J&K. It was a volatile period of strife in the valley. The security forces had fortified the church building in Gulmarg which was also under grave threat”.
“The news of Koran burning turned the angst against the Christian institutions that had nothing at all to do with the actions of one insane man from America,” commented the Principal-Director of TBM Parwez Samuel Kaul, to this writer in Srinagar, who later sent a detailed report to the government which led to compensation promise to the tune of Rs 8 crore.
“Though the officials were informed prior to the attack of grave possibilities and requested for security they paid scant regard. The mob even stopped the fire brigade from reaching the spot,” revealed the Bishop. “I was heart-broken as I was involved with the Tangmarg School right from the time of land selection to its start in 1996, seeing it grow and flourish. With beaming Kashmiri children, the School was more like a beautiful fairy garden. To see it turn to ashes was killing.”
“The Tangmarg school’s safe status was assumed as students from 150 villages studied here, ensuring its security. That strategic neglect by government and security caused grievous damage as the school turned into a soft target and the fire reduced it to ashes”, a Kashmiri bureaucrat said on conditions of anonymity.
Trees more than 40-70 feet tall surrounding the school, stood witness to the terrible insanity that night that set a place of learning alight and also gutted nine other government buildings including tehsil headquarters.
All records everything was burnt, everywhere were ashes and soot that flew around as the wind blew. However, the arsonists were unaware that seven copies of the Quran kept in the school were also burnt, when they set it afire. Mustaq Ahmed Dar – a teacher for seven years says his copy of Koran was one of the seven that were reduced to ashes. Hardly any pictures other than those that were in the main TBM branch were left as the reminder of what the original school looked like.
Socio-Economic Development Project (SEDP) president Daniel B Das, also a member of the Amritsar Diocese, said they had earlier thought of withdrawing from Tangmarg which is a rural area. However, it would have sent a wrong signal to the forces which were inimical to the pluralistic character of Kashmir.
Children came the following morning, each of them crying and holding hands of their teachers and hugging in that terrible hour of tragedy. Senior students and teachers took turns to douse the remnant ashes that were simmering and causing more damage to ground below.
Undeterred by the tragedy, the school authorities from Srinagar and Amritsar restarted the school the very next day , shifting it to Dobivan village hospital with not even a pencil or eraser, but plain guts and resilience, in a move to save the academic year of 500 girls and boys. Principal Rajinder Kaul proudly tells us that the same year students who appeared in the matric board exams produced a cent percent result with three students making it to the merit list of J &K State Board of Secondary Examination for year 2011.
The school was shifted back to the same site and now carries on in modular or pre-fabricated huts provided by the government for which the school built base plinth foundation from the one crore with the preliminary compensation released by the government.
Director and Principal of Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson society had written to the Jammu and Kashmir government a detailed note about Rs 8 crore in compensation, but nearly two and half years later only the initial compensation of Rs one crore was released.
On 4th May 2013, the local Tangmarg Tehsildar with a team of officials marched to the school to dismantle 25 pre fabricated by the Divisional commissioner’s office. The officer left after being confronted for a notice or communication by relevant authority.
The school with 500 students had started functioning in 25 modular huts that were released by CM for temporary reconstruction of the school building, till the time permanent structure of the school building was constructed, according to an official communication.
How Tyndale Biscoe changed the character of Kashmir?
In Srinagar you may pass a sign outside a tall gate in the midst of a Sheikh Bagh bazaar, that reads “In all things, be Men” with an emblem of two crossed heart shaped oars. Most would fail to get the import of this motto and emblem that stands to symbolizes ‘Face all challenges with courage and a gentle heart’.
With the first school started under Church Mission School CNI under Diocese of North India (DNI) whose foundation was laid in Lahore, Pakistan, the entire character of Kashmiris took a U-turn. Those who chose to put their wards under the wings of Cecil Canon Tyndale Biscoe felt the drastic change, some opposed it vehemently while few tolerated and fewer were visionaries to appreciate the new calling. Where Patshalas and Maktabs were run by Pandits and Maulavis respectively, the first Christian school established in Kashmir in 1880, to usher in widespread changes in channelizing attitudes, talents and spirits posing a challenge to traditional lifestyles and acceptable dogmatic rituals and superstitions.
If not for Tyndale Biscoe –
The Mighty Pir Panjal range would have stood virgin with no one to show a ‘V’ sign for Victory after the toughest climb.
The bluest waters of Kashmir would have never rejoiced with Aquarian sports and regattas (boating competitions).
No trophies would have been won in competitions of footballs, dancing, boxing, boating, mountaineering, trekking, rock climbing or swimming or possessing the rare “Pluck” to dare.
The Wular Lake would still be in wait for swimmers given the belief about its demon-like qualities and a fiery temper
If not Famine, Floods and Fires; certainly Cholera would have erased the names of many Kashmiri families, which traces its origins to the late 1800s or beyond.
Surely, Kashmir would have been turned into a dump yard with no lessons of –‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ learnt and girls would have remained illiterate and sodomy would have still ruled as a bullies would roam the streets.
Arrogance and devilish Taboos would have ruined many a woman- the embodiment of life.
Citizens would become stingy and selfish or would have run away in the face of disasters. They would have never learnt the spirit of service or performing civil duties of firefighting, street cleaning, preventing cruelty to animals, rescue operations during floods and epidemic of cholera breakouts.
Modern-day concepts of marathons, Peak treks, camping, excursions, and service above self were a part of school curriculum way back in 1890s in Kashmir. “Secularism was visible when this Christian school houses were named not after some Christian saints but after mountain peaks of Kashmir- Kolohai ,Harmukh, Tattakuti ,Mahadev”, says Mr Rajan Sandhu estate supervisor of Tyndale Biscoe