How A Young Social Entrepreneur Rediscovered Kashmir
'A Muslim woman recorded a two minute video to calm my anxious parents and assured them of my safety. Moreover, they also invited them to spend their winter vacations in Kashmir.'
If I were to structure a paragraph highlighting my ten-day long experience working in Kashmir, the sheer spotlight would be my awareness regarding the internalized stereotype against Kashmir. Apart from understanding the nuances of life virtues, it taught me the number of privileges I hold captive and the zeal of responsibilities I carry as a young social entrepreneur.
Youth For Peace International
I remember when Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) approved of our organization Youth for Peace International for a workshop in Kashmir, my parents, friends and relatives were deeply skeptical of my trip. Not understanding the dynamics of gender biases, added to the factor of my parents restricting my choice to go ahead with the project. However, I was permitted to go after a lot of hopeful assurances regarding my social work as a changemaker and the accommodation facility being of my co-founder's friend. But their anxieties stayed.
The workshop was facilitated to understand the social dynamics of youth categorized between the age of 16 to 24. The module was designed to promote active listening among participants and to allow a space for being vocal about their opinions and expressions. Hence, the workshop was divided between urban and rural youth groups, to understand the behavioral patterns of youth within their own safe spaces.
The workshop that we facilitated in Baramulla, (one of the most militarized regions in the state) was with rural youth groups.
I remember the first day when I sat with girls wearing burqas, the analysis of choice struck me. While I had earlier cautioned myself for my dressing choices, I could understand their discomfort and empathize with them.
The Rural Youth
It was about unassured ideologies in practicality, understanding deep gender constructs in rural set ups and how it's difficult to even question them. However, the dynamic conclusion, that should be prioritized in the context, is that the rural youth recognizes the Kashmir identity crisis as a primary concern.
The language barrier was an issue initially, but eventually through exercises like ‘play for peace’, they could narrate their personal stories and the everyday existential crisis they have to succumb to. One of the participants literally broke down, inciting her inability to go to school due to financial constraints. It only made me count my blessings and I decided to fund her education for three subsequent years through my entrepreneurship, working for its substantive process to continue.
I remember something interesting from one of the days, when everyone was amused by our 'play for activity' organized out in the lawns. It was extremely enriching to listen to the narratives of 25 young people - of their quest to retain identities and yet have enough warmth to embrace people and offer hospitality.
The Urban Youth
The urban youth of Kashmir also highlighted different facets to the lives of Kashmiris. In my opinion and analysis out of a five-day workshop, I understood that the urban youth of Kashmir delved deeper into inter and intra conflict problems, rather than the identity crisis of Kashmir (as compared to the rural youth).
There is a stark need of proper mentorship to help the youth deal with stress and depression arising from personal conflicts at home and among peers. Every individual, in a group of 25, had narratives of dealing with frustration because of various factors. But the financial constraints that devoid students to pursue higher education in the field of their interests, looms as the larger problem.
I can't help but draw a comparison between the urban and the rural youth of Kashmir, and count the advantages that the former retrieve. Their lives are relatively fashionable and don't actively involve investing time in prayers and reading religious texts which, as their choice, is respected. The urban youth requires motivation and mentorship to understand the optimal use of resources and to structure a goal-oriented action plan.
Eagerness To Learn
The modules were facilitated to promote solution oriented activities for youth, to draw action plans and to start acting upon them. The dearth of opportunities and spaces to platform their opinions and problems were affluently evident with their enthusiastic engagement in the activities. Nothing seems relevant to trace but their fondness to learn and reflect upon those learnings.
It also occurred to me that the mainstream media, flooded with imageries of stone pelting and violence, have undermined the needs of youth and social impact. That's where I am optimistic about the existence of the organization I represent (Youth for Peace International), capitalizing on youth capacity building to motivate community development.
Now that they've found a mentor in us, even among people older than me, they keep orienting discussions around their action plan and its implications.
But the question that keeps haunting me is, whether there could be a substantive progress to be put in place for a longer time? The idea is to platform opportunities for youth in conflict-prone regions as successfully as possible, since we require a holistic approach to youth mobilization.
A ten day long engagement with the youth allowed me to introspect upon the kind of privileges I possess and to recognize it, while having to adapt to varied circumstances. It also helped me recognize my skills, the revelation being my problem solving techniques and my ability to connect with the participants. Having to convince my parents also instilled a great deal of patience, one of the core qualities required in a changemaker. Moreover, the respect and warmth I received is incomparable to any experience in 20 years of my life.
A smile is contagious, they say, and so is change. The number of lives we ought to impact positively, will always have a ripple effect. I hope we can multiply these ripples in places like Kashmir, where violence and conflict undermines the growth and progress of youth, to recognize the true spirit of peace building.
A Changed Perception
I have no qualms in admitting that I have not adequately delved myself into political circumstances of Kashmir. This also harbored a realization in me - of the significance of being updated with news, especially as a social worker, whose agenda is to bring a social change. It is disappointing to know that there is no parameter set for ‘change makers’, who embark on a concept of social change through teaching and facilitating ground level workshops.
My views about Kashmir were limited to stone pelting and a military dominated space. But in twenty years of my existence, it took just a hearty welcome by my host family to deconstruct a lot of preset notions about the place and its people.
The Muslim family that hosted me had a sober house, but the hospitality and warmth can't be deciphered in words. After having returned from Kashmir, I have shed off my vulnerabilities and completely give credit to the word 'heavenly', used to describe Kashmir, for the warmth and love that was reciprocated.
This is a personal narrative by Saumya Aggarwal, co-founder of Youth For Peace International. She been nominated as the SDG innovator for TED Ed Innovative Educator Project 2017. She has also been selected as a motivational speaker for TEDX talk, and have been engaging actively as a trainer and mentor in conflict-prone areas.