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Miles away from home, Kashmir's children chase their dreams

Last updated on: October 19, 2011 10:17 IST

Kashmir's children chase their dreams

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Kashmiris often feel alienated from the rest of the country, but that is not true for the children of a very special school, reports A Ganesh Nadar

They have grown up in an atmosphere of strife, mistrust and injustice; they are used to an existence more unequal than others. They are the children of Kashmir.

That's why, during an organised trip to Mumbai, a group of children from Kashmir could barely contain their excitement when they got a chance that millions of Indians can only dream about. When they expressed a desire to meet Amitabh Bachchan, the megastar immediately agreed to grant their precious wishes.

This is one of the many touching tales shared by Sanjay Nahar, the founder of Pune-based NGO Sarhad, which works in border areas torn apart by conflict and violence.

At the peak of the Khalistani movement, Nahar and his team worked in Punjab, to bring some semblance of peace and harmony to the troubled state.

Their next stop was Kashmir, when it bled due to militancy in the 1990s. As part of an effort to make the children of Kashmir get in touch with their Indian identity, Nahar started organising all-India tours for them.

"After the tour, they learnt more about India. They realised that they were a part of this country, that they were loved and respected everywhere," he says.

But after a few tours, Nahar felt that he was not doing enough. As Kashmir continued to burn with unabated violence, he decided to shift the children away from the epicentre of militancy and arrange for their education in Pune.

Nahar helped some of the children get admission to schools and colleges in Pune, but even for him, it was not possible to arrange for the admission of each child.

So, Nahar decided to start his own school.

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Image: Sanjay Nahar, the founder of Pune-based NGO Sarhad
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar
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The government gave him two acres of land to build the school. He took a bank loan and his friends helped him out financially.

Today, not only does Sarhad boast of a school, it has even set up a college.

There are 63 Kashmiri students in the school and 36 Kashmiri students in the college, along with students from across Pune.

Rediff.com spoke to a few of these students, who came across as shy, but happy with their new life and home.

Zahid Bhat belongs to Palar village in Kashmir's Bhadgaon district. He has been studying at the Sarhad School for nine years, as there were "too many problems" in his home state.

When Zahid visits his family every year during summer, he finds that the situation there has changed for the better, it is more peaceful.

Zahid studies in standard 11 and is planning to pursue arts in Sarhad College. Incidentally, he aspires to become a politician one day.

Mohammad Salim Raina, 17, studies in standard 9. Back home, his family comprises his mother and four sisters. His father was killed by militants in 2004.

Mohammad, along with another sister, has been studying here for eight years. One of his sisters is also studying in standard 8 here.

Mohammad enjoys a spot of volleyball and dreams of becoming a social worker one day to help the people of his state.

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Image: Mohammad Salim Raina
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar
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Rafiq Shah, who is 16, studies in standard 8. When he was living in Kashmir, Rafiq used to frequently run away from school and hide in the fields.

"The teacher used to beat me, so I ran away," he says with a smile.

When his parents came to his school to pay the fees, they realised that he had been bunking classes.

Unlike Mohammad and Zahid, Rafiq is planning to work in Maharashtra after graduating in commerce.

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Image: Rafiq Shah
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar
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Nasreen Bhanu, the only daughter in the family, has come to study here while her three brothers stayed back in Kargil, Kashmir with her parents. Nasreen is 12 years old and studies in standard 7.

"I came here to study because the level of education here is much better," she declares.

Nasreen has grand ambitions of pursuing science and becoming a pilot in the Indian Air Force.

Stanzin Dolma, from Padum village in Kargil, studies in standard 7. She plans to study economics and become a teacher.

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Image: Nasreen Bhanu
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar
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Misa Afzal is only 9 years old but already knows what she wants to do in life. She wants to become an engineer and work in Pune. Misa has left her family -- parents and grandparents -- behind in Kashmir.

Misa's sister Rubina, who studies in standard 6, dreams of becoming a doctor and working in Pune.

Every year, celebrations for Kashmir Day are held in Sarhad School, where local students learn the various facets of Kashmiri art and culture.

Kashmiris often feel alienated from the rest of the country, but that is not true for the children from that state under the care of Sarhad. They believe that they are Indians and that they belong to this country. After completing their education, many of them want to stay back and continue working here, instead of going back to their home state.

We may cry ourselves hoarse declaring that Kashmir is a part of India, but what do any of us do to make the people of the beautiful but troubled state feel at home?

This is what makes Sanjay Nahar special. He doesn't indulge in jingoistic rhetoric but makes concrete efforts to make children from Kashmir feel that they are Indians and their state is indeed a part of India. The India that the rest of us are yet to discover.


Image: Stanzin, Misa and Rubina
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar
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