Jammu & Kashmir: Why NEET, JEE candidates flock to private reading rooms to prepare for exams

NEET UG, JEE, UPSC, JKPSC candidates in Kashmir hire booths in private reading halls accessible 24x7 and with kitchens and discussion areas.


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J-K candidates for NEET UG, PG, JEE Main and recruitment exams prepare in Srinagar reading rooms. (Image: Dilshada Pathan’s reading room, Source: Pathan)J-K candidates for NEET UG, PG, JEE Main and recruitment exams prepare in Srinagar reading rooms. (Image: Dilshada Pathan’s reading room, Source: Pathan)

Team Careers360 | May 26, 2024 | 10:03 AM IST

By Mohammad Aatif Ammad Kanth

SRINAGAR, JAMMU AND KASHMIR: Farzan Farooq commited 15-17 hours of his day to Cabin Number 99, reserved for him until May this year, at Baitul-Hikmah library, a private reading hall in Srinagar’s Rajbagh area. A native of Kulgam, 70 km from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq prepared for the national-level medical entrance exam, the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET UG).

Despite residing as a paying guest in Srinagar, Farzan seldom utilised his room for anything other than sleeping and eating. Instead, he gravitated towards the nearby reading hall, a few hundred metres away.

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Much like Farzan, dozens of aspirants aiming for various exams like NEET, JEE Main and JEE Advanced for engineering, as well as government job examinations such as JKPSC, JKSSB, and UPSC, flock to these private reading halls every day to study. They provide a conducive environment for quiet study, shielding students from distractions and fostering an atmosphere that encourages focused and effective study. The surge in popularity of such private reading halls has increased in the valley following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I opted for the reading hall because it offers an ideal study environment. Once I step inside, the outside world fades away, allowing me to concentrate on my studies. Moreover, there are no external distractions in the hall,” Farzan explained. “In addition to studying and watching online lectures, I carve out some time to discuss strategies and clarify doubts with my friends who are also in the same library. This is another advantage of being in a reading hall.”

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Accessible for NEET, JEE aspirants 24X7

Approximately 2.26 lakh visitors used 131 public libraries in Jammu and Kashmir in 2022, reported The Greater Kashmir, indicating both an enthusiasm for learning and a scarcity of accessible public library facilities in the region.

A large number of youths preparing for various competitive exams – both for college admissions and jobs – seek such spaces to study in. However, despite the high demand, public libraries are limited in number, leading to overcrowding and restrictions on operating hours, primarily during the daytime. This poses challenges for students who need to study for extended periods of time.

To address this persistent issue, educated youths in Jammu and Kashmir have opened private reading halls, catering specifically to the needs of students. These offer round-the-clock access and are equipped with internet connectivity, climate control systems for heating and cooling, kitchen facilities for preparing meals and snacks, and designated discussion areas for peer learning. The availability of such comprehensive facilities ensures that students have an optimal environment for exam preparation which is also accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including government holidays.

NEET, JEE, UPSC, JKPSC, JKSSB, reading roomsFarzan Farooq at his cabin in April, preparing for NEET UG 2024 (Image: Mohammad Aatif Ammad Kanth)

Dilshada Sayeed Pathan, a PhD scholar, and her brother Jameel Ahmed pathaan, pioneered the advent of private reading halls in Kashmir, setting up the first one in 2021.

“Due to a significant shortage of public libraries and reading spaces in Kashmir, my brother, having studied in Delhi where such facilities are abundant, felt the need to establish reading halls in Kashmir as well. Upon his return, I, with his guidance, immediately set up a reading hall in Karan Nagar, Srinagar, accessible to students 24x7 which garnered media coverage and was perceived as a novel concept in Kashmir,” she said. “We received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community, prompting us to expand our operations by opening two additional branches at different locations. The business has been steadily growing, and people continue to visit our establishments regularly.”

Dilshada Pathan currently runs three facilities used by 450 students daily.

Javed Pathaan, a recent PhD graduate from Kashmir University, operates another private reading hall in Srinagar’s Rajbagh area. “We offer amenities that are unavailable in public libraries such as kitchens, discussion rooms, and high-speed WiFi facilities,” said Pathaan. “Having undergone the process of preparing for competitive exams myself, I recognise the significance of these additional amenities. Those studying all day require moments of relaxation, so we have allocated a separate section for short naps as well.”

Qualifying NEET, JEE, UPSC

In recent years, many students who have used these reading halls have successfully cleared competitive exams. Although not coaching institutions, reading-hall owners are proactive in motivating students and maintaining contact with parents, updating them on their children’s progress and study habits. Additionally, these reading halls foster a competitive environment akin to coaching institutes and often advertise their successful candidates at the end of the year to attract more admissions.

“Although major chunk of our students are NEET UG aspirants, 40 of our students have qualified NEET PG, 50-plus qualified NEET UG; numerous have qualified JKSSB; four-five qualified JKPSC last year; and this year, apart from JKSSB selections, one of our students has qualified the UPSC attaining AIR 88,” said Jameel. The Union Public Service Commission conducts the Civil Services Examination for recruitment into the Indian Administrative Services.

Manan Bhat, 28, from Soura, Srinagar, who secured the 88th rank in the UPSC exam this year, said: “Although the concept of reading halls in Kashmir was once niche, it’s now gaining momentum rapidly. When I first started frequenting these halls, they were relatively empty, but now they’re bustling with students. The key benefit of these spaces is the personal focus they provide, allowing individuals to concentrate solely on their studies. Moreover, the camaraderie among students preparing for the same exams fosters a learning environment where mutual knowledge exchange thrives.”

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He added that public libraries often lack privacy, whereas private reading halls offer personal cabins.

Beyond Srinagar

Earlier the private reading halls were confined to urban areas only but are now spreading to smaller towns and villages as well.

Amir Suhail, 34 and from Kokernag, Anantnag, established the first reading hall outside Srinagar, in Anantnag town, 60 km away. While preparing for recruitment exams in Jammu, he spent most of his time in reading halls. Upon securing a job, he sought a place to study after office hours. Disappointed by the limited hours of public libraries in Anantnag, which closed even on holidays, he decided to open a 24/7 reading hall.

Suhail said, “Initially, there was little response, but the reading hall is now thriving, with several others opening nearby. My primary aim was to provide a facility for students, particularly those preparing for NEET, JEE, and government jobs, and I am satisfied that I have succeeded in my mission”.

Idrees Wani, a senior physics teacher at Aakash Institute’s Anantnag branch, said that after their classes, his students frequently head straight to these reading halls.

“Initially, I was quite concerned about the lacklustre response. However, now I see that students, especially those gearing up for NEET and JEE, dedicate more time to these halls than anywhere else,” he said.

Mohammad Aatif Ammad Kanth is a Srinagar-based freelance journalist who writes on financial, economic and social issues

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