At 10.30 in the morning on Monday, a group of Class 12 students were anxiously waiting with their parents outside the gate of Government High School, Rawalpora, in uptown Srinagar. Their examination was set to begin at 11 and some of them were busy brushing up Chemistry, their first paper.
One of them, Yasmeena Sheikh was engaged in a nervous chat with her friend Mehak Jan. Their loud conversation articulated the uncertainty and the confusion that the students in Valley have gone through during the ongoing unrest and that it now hangs heavy over the most important event of the academic calendar - the annual examination.
"I am very scared. I expected the exams to be deferred until last evening" Sheikh told Jan who replied that she was forced by her parents to sit in the exam against her will. "I have studied little in the past four months. I hope the question paper is easy".
But when examination was over, both the girls came out full of beans. Their paper had gone well and they looked forward with a renewed confidence to the papers ahead.
"Now that we have decided to sit for this examination, we will give it our best shot," the girls told Catch. Their parents were waiting to take them home.
Like Yasmeena and Mehak, many students acoss Kashmir wrote their exams on Monday.
The exams were conducted despite a tug of war between the state government and the separatists who backed the students' demand that they be postponed till March due to the last few months of unrest.
But the government didn't budge, a decision that triggered a widespread student backlash. In many protests, students were seen carrying placards which read "No exams till Azadi".
The examination got politicised with the government allegedly trying to use it to scuttle the protests that have been going on since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July.
The past four months saw thousands of people protesting on the streets and students played a key role in this. Part of the reason the government announced the examination was to force these youth indoors.
The Hurriyat resisted this. But the government didn't back down, for obvious reasons. However, it did offer to hold exams for Class 10 and 12 twice: first in November and then in March. For those ready to take the exam in November, it offered a 50% reduction in syllabus. No concession was offered for those who choose to take the exams in March.
As the government figures for the first day of the examination indicate, a predominant majority of the students have bitten the bait. Over 94% students of class 12 students appeared in their examinations held amid tight security arrangements.
Around 30,213 students appeared for the exam in Kashmir,out of a total of 31,964. In Srinagar, 5617 appeared out of a total number of 5861 students. Government has set up 484 centres categorising them as sensitive and hypersensitive as per their location.
South Kashmir's Anantnag district, the epicentre of the unrest, witnessed the highest participation of 96% of the students followed by 95% in central Kashmir's Srinagar district.
And a majority of these students were accompanied by their parents to the exam centre. This increased the movement of traffic on the roads in defiance of the separatist shutdown call.
One such parent was Dr Shakir Wani who accompanied his son Nadeem Shakir to his centre at SP Higher Secondary, located in the heart of Srinagar at Lal Chowk.
Dr Wani said he prevailed on his reluctant son to take the exam. "By holding the examination, government passed its own stress on to the students," Dr Wani said. He, however, said that the government's promise of relaxation of the 50% syllabus didn't reflect in the question papers.
"My son appeared in Chemistry paper but he had questions from both organic and inorganic chemistry. So, he couldn't have passed it if he hadn't studied both, which mercifully he had".
However, the exercise was by and large successful.
There were a few untoward incidents though. Authorities were forced to relocate three examination centres from Soibugh in central Kashmir's Budgam district after a group of youths threw stones at a building where students were writing their examination.
"We have relocated Class 12 exam centres 2112 and 2113 to Girls Higher Secondary School Budgam and Boys Higher Secondary School Budgam, with immediate effect and Class 10 exam centre to Degree college Budgam," Chief Education Officer (CEO) Budgam Inderjeet Sharma said.
Government forces deployed outside the Government Higher Secondary School Soibugh resorted to heavy teargas shelling to chase away the stone-pelting youth. Some youth are also alleged to have thrashed students returning from the exam centres at Haran and Soibugh chowk.