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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 29 New Delhi July 6, 2019

A People’s Peace Initiative in Kashmir

Sunday 7 July 2019, by Sandeep Pandey

Sanjay Tula and his wife, Tula Sanjay, are products of Jayaprakash Narayan’s total revolution movement in the 1970s. They live in Mehsana, Gujarat and run a small organisation called Vishwagram which hosts less than 20 children picked up from railway platforms. However, Sanjay is leading a silent peace initiative in Jammu and Kashmir which may never produce any macro level impact but is the healing touch required where the government has totally mishandled the situation and alienated the people.

Supported by the organisation Srishti and National Innovation Foundation, initiatives of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad Professor Anil Gupta, Sanjay first led a team of 25, mainly school teachers from Gujarat to Anantnag district for a three-week stay in 2017. They visited 25 government schools during this period and interacted with teachers, students and villagers. In the subsequent years such groups of 50, also mainly teachers, visited Baramulla and Doda districts. In all these ordinary citizens of Gujarat have mingled with people from about hundred villages and visited about 150 schools in their three visits so far, which they plan to make an annual event now. Teams of ten people visit a school and carry out activities like origami, puppetry, music, painting, story-telling, games, card-making, robotics, doing science and mathematics in interesting manner, etc. Sanjay insists it’ll not just be events, he intends to make it into a process.

The Kashmiris were impressed with this group of people who would come with all the material that they would need for their activities including their food. The Gujarati group cooked their own food so as not to become a burden on the local people.

Return visits of three groups from Jammu and Kashmir has also taken place in which school teachers in groups of 22, twice and third time a group of 16 education department officials visited Gujarat and were taken to schools where some innovation was being tried out. Kashmiris were impressed with education in local language in Gujarat, something that they miss in J&K where English has become the medium of education.

The entire effort is driven by spirit of volunteerism. Groups from Gujarat and J&K both travel to each other’s State on their own personal expenses. Once the group from J&K arrives in Gujarat then their hospitality is completely taken care of by the Gujarati friends. Kashmiris stay and eat at homes of supporters of this initiative in Gujarat.

The teachers or Education Department officials from J&K have to take the permission of their government for organising the workshops conducted by the Gujarat group in their schools or for visiting Gujarat but Gujarat teachers come to J&K during their vacation on a personal visit. Now Sanjay has a hard time to choose from among the people who are enthusiastic about coming to Kashmir.

The Gujarat group has now decided to create libraries in 35 of the schools that they have visited in J&K, of which they would also build the infrastructure at two places by using appropriate building technology from Gujarat. People from Gujarat will actually go to build these two libraries in J&K.

About a 100 meritorious and needy students of J&K are now receiving Rs 6,000 annual scholarship courtesy friends from Gujarat and seven young students from Kashmir are studying in engineering and pharmacy undergraduate programmes at privates institutions like Ganpat University, Kherva, S.K. Patel University, Visnagar and S.R. Patel Engineering College in Unjha. Their expenses are being entirely borne by the host institutions. Sanjay says that if more young people from Kashmir are willing to come to Gujarat then there are more institutions willing to host them.

Sanjay has also organised programmes of a folk singer from Kashmir, Gulzar Ahmed Ganai, and his group in Gujarat and addressed 40-50 meetings where he and his friends have shared their experiences of visiting and working in J&K; these have received a very positive response. One such sharing also took place at the annual two-day Sadbhavna Parv or festival at Morari Bapu’s ashram in Mahua, Bhavnagar last year. They are breaking the stereotypes of Kashmiris created by mainstream politics and media and also helping Kashmiris realise that people exist in India outside Kashmir who would like to build a relationship with them at a human level irrespective of the dominant politics. That people from Gujarat have taken this initiative is even more reassuring. Gujarat has been described by the now deceased former president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Ashok Singhal, as the laboratory of communalism. If Sanjay’s efforts succeed then it could also become the laboratory for communal harmony.

Sanjay believes that destructive activities can be replaced by creative activities and creativity will lead to cooperation. He has firm faith in the Gandhian ideology and repeats what Vinoba Bhave said during his Kashmir visit repeatedly, ‘I don’t want to know your religion, neither do I want to know your thoughts, I just want to understand your pain and see if I can do anything to remove it.’ The amount of interest his initiative has generated in Gujarat as well as J&K shows that common people would like to live in peace and communal harmony only if the politicos would allow them to do so. The more people understand this, the better it’ll be for our societies. Sanjay has the patience for a long haul. He believes that just like people have sowed seeds of hatred and violence, his team would have to work to replace those thoughts with love and peace. Fortunately darkness is only the absence of light. There is no source which emits darkness, whereas sources of light are well known. Darkness is unreal, light is real. One only hopes light will overtake darkness sooner than later.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey was the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He was elected to this post at the founding conference of the party at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011. He has since, however, left the party.

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