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‘Baseras’ for girls orphaned by militancy

Apr 29, 2008

The Borderless World Foundation, a Pune-based NGO, has a mission to provide shelter for young girls orphaned by violence in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. In these baseras or homes, they find much-needed affection and care, which they have been bereft of.

Pune, Maharashtra: For young Kashmiri girls like Ruqiya, Shazia and Jamila, who recently visited Pune as part of an exploration trip, their childhood memories are not of playing in a school compound, building toy homes, dressing up dolls or soaking in the picturesque beauty of Kashmir.

Instead, their minds are filled with a series of nightmares – of explosions ripping apart human bodies, of constant exchange of gunfire between Indian soldiers and terrorists, of attending the funerals of near and loved ones. For them, the word ‘parental love’ has become a distant concept, one that can only be imagined, never felt.

In fact, girls like them would have been thrown into a bottomless abyss of fear and danger had it not been for the attempts of a Pune-based non-governmental organisation called Borderless World Foundation (BWF) that has taken upon itself the task of providing shelter and education to the orphans.

Aiming to provide a human touch

Established in March 2002 by Adik Kadam and his cousin Bharati Mamani, the organisation aims to provide the much-needed “human touch” to the border areas of India and beyond.

The BWF family is a group of youngsters with a humanitarian outlook towards life who aim to work towards alleviating the poor and the needy, the abandoned and the deprived, the suffering and the victimised people of the border areas of India and beyond towards their physical, psychological, educational, economical, social and political well being by implementing rehabilitation and developmental projects.

“The concept originated in 1998 when we started work at the grassroots level in the disturbed and sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir. Our first hand experience made us realise that the people of the nation remain ignorant of the fact that their border areas function as the shock absorbers of the country," Kadam narrates.

Life for the people in these areas is far from normal, full of challenges and uncertainty. Loss of lives, violence, fear and chaos are the order of the day. Socio-economic stagnancy, corruption and civil administrative breakdown affect all walks of life. Thousands of children have been orphaned due to violence; a million of them have dropped out of their childhood.

Life back at home

Disturbed by the thought of what would happen to the orphaned girls, Kadam and Mamani started Basera-e-Tabassum (BeT), the first of its kind project in village Sulkoote in the frontier district of Kupwara on May 12, 2002.

“We took in girls who had lost their parents as victims of militancy or due to illness and accidental deaths. Established to fight for the basic rights to survival, protection, development and participation of the girl-child and the word ‘orphan’ itself (as it brings a deep-seated psychological scar to the child’s entire life) BeT works towards their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration,” Kadam informs.

Smile comes back

BeT now has 45 girls and is run on the same lines as a large household, with the children sharing the daily chores and the older ones helping to look after the younger children.

School, play, and meals follow a regular routine, but the children also have a rollicking time with bhaiyya and didi (Adik and Bharati as elder brother and sister) who tell them stories, some of which entertain, teach a moral or increase their knowledge. Feeling protected and cared for, the girls now have begun to express their ambitions.

Jamila, 13, would like to become a software engineer and help people affected by violence. Sumera, 10, wants to be a surgeon. Sadat states that she will be a nuclear physicist. Rubina’s ambitions are to be an “eye doctor”, while solemn shy little Ruqia, 9, has made up her mind to become “a police inspector and see that no houses are burnt and no children left orphaned”.

But it has not been easy to set up BeT. Elaborates Kadam: “Working in the Valley has been a real challenge as youngsters, as non-Muslims, as non-Kashmiris. Every single day is a new struggle. The first challenge came on the inauguration day when the district issued fatwa or a ban on us, which was formidable enough to keep the district collector away from attending the function.”

The district is better known as the hotbed of militancy and one has a restricted life to live. Counted as one of the backward districts, Kupwara seemed to be cut off from the civilised world until very recently.

“It has been difficult for the residents to believe that youngsters like us can shun the comforts of their homes and a normal life and work in a sensitive area like theirs. What has helped pull the project through is local support. This is a peoples’ movement and we are working towards building effective community participation,” Kadam states.

BWF would now like to take this program further. While they plan to open more homes in different districts of Kashmir, they would also like to bring a bunch of girls to Pune every year for three months when the harsh winter closes down schools. Here they will learn many more things, and gradually the older girls who pass out of schools could attend specialised higher education.

“We have to equip ourselves to absorb a larger number of orphaned girls and ensure that their future is taken care of,” Kadam concludes.

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