In the heart of Srinagar’s commercial district is one of Kashmir’s oldest schools in which some of the Valley’s most prominent figures have studied. The Tyndale-Biscoe boys school was set up in 1880, while its girls wing, the Mallinson school, was established in 1912. Both schools stand on 10.6 acres of land leased from the government in Sheikh Bagh, in the heart of Srinagar. They have two branches – one in Baramulla set up in 1996 and another in Budgam established in 2003.
But now there is a threat to the Srinagar schools. Traders who have businesses in the area adjoining the institutions have demanded that they be relocated to the city’s outskirts because the congestion caused by its students and school buses is affecting business. This has caused consternation among the administration and alumni of both schools, and has led to a former student starting an online petition addressed to the state government, the Srinagar Development Authority and the Srinagar Municipal Corporation to protest against any such move.
The demand to shift the schools was an “attack on history and heritage” said Hadhiq Khan, an engineering graduate and former Biscoe student, who started the petition earlier this month. “Half of Kashmir is emotionally connected to Biscoe school,” he said. “No one should even think about it.”
School vs traders
Parvez Samuel Koul, principal and director of the schools, said that the institutions were set up decades before any markets came up in the area. “The area called Lal Chowk was not there,” he said. “It was jungle all around.”
Today, prominent and bustling markets encircle the schools. “All the shops around us are mostly encroachments,” said Koul. “They park their own vehicles there and then crib about congestion.”
Koul said the 30-odd shopkeepers in the immediate vicinity of the schools who had voiced concerns over congestion were oblivious to the indirect benefits the institutions brought their businesses. “Some 6,000 to 7,000 parents connected with the school visit the area and bring some returns to them even if 20% to 30% do some shopping,” he said. “Their own children are studying in this school. They must know what education is.”
“Heritage cannot be rebuilt,” Koul added. “It is not so easy. Heritage that is lost, is lost. This school has developed over 130 years. People have put in their sincere efforts. That is how the school has become so big and meaningful to society.”
However, traders say that the proposal was not solely based on their concerns.
Yasin Khan, chairperson of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturing Federation, said that the relocation proposal was made by state authorities in the Srinagar 2015-2035 master plan. This plan proposes to develop the Lal Chowk area in the vicinity of Tyndale-Biscoe and Mallinson Schools as a tourism hub.
“Some traders may have raised concerns regarding their businesses due to traffic jams,” said Yasin Khan. “The government has kept this [relocation] in its master plan, to deal with the traffic problem and decongest the city.”
In February, Divisional Commissioner, Asgar Samoon, told Greater Kashmir newspaper that the issue of the schools’ relocation was “confined to demand level”.
So far, the online petition has gained more than 800 signatures. Once the goal of 1,000 signatures is achieved, Hadhiq Khan plans to submit it in person to the Srinagar Development Authority.
A brief history
The two schools were first set up in Srinagar’s old city area by British missionaries and later relocated to Sheikh Bagh. At that time, they were run by the Church Mission Society of the United Kingdom. Today, the institutions are managed as non-profit institutions by the Tyndale-Biscoe and Mallinson Society under the aegis of the Church of North India, which is the Indian successor to the Church Mission Society.
Over the decades, the schools gained considerable acceptance in Muslim-majority Kashmir. They are well known for their high academic standards as well as their intense extra-curricular activity schedule. They hold regular outdoor activities like camping, trekking and boating for their students. It is this that still makes the two institutions among the top choices for schooling for residents of Srinagar city.
The Biscoe school’s crest is represented by two crossed heart-shaped oars, which represent hard work, bodily strength, and health. A description of the crest on the school’s website reads:
“Their heart shaped blades indicate the gentleness that tempers brute strength. The lowly calling of the boatman reminds us to honour all useful work and to be ready to serve even in the humblest capacity.”
Biscoe school introduced football in the Valley in 1891, after a few hurdles.
Over the decades, Biscoe alumni have risen to become prominent doctors, politicians, and administrative officers. They include former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, Indian Administrative Service officer Shah Faesal, and the 2015 civil services topper, Athar Aamir-ul-Shafi Khan, journalist Rahul Jalali and prominent doctor Sushil Razdan.
Today, the schools tutor some 6,000 boys and girls up to the higher secondary levels with the help of 500 teachers and other staff. The threat of a relocation notwithstanding, in early July, the schools were preparing for their upcoming summer camps in Yousmarg. “If the government thinks shops are more important than the school, what can we do?” lamented Koul. “We can only feel sad.”