Is BWF an international organization?
BWF is an Indian trust registered with the Charity Commissioner of Pune, Maharashtra, India under the Societies Registration Act 1860 and the Bombay Public Trust Act 1950. BWF has received support from Indians or from people of Indian origin till now.
What does BWF do?
BWF works for the deprived and victimized people of the border areas of India, with the present focus being on the violence hit state of Jammu & Kashmir. Since 1998, the founders have been active in the field working for widows, migrants, locals of the war torn areas of Kargil, Drass and Batalik sectors.
Implementing developmental projects in areas required and involving community participation in the projects is BWF’s aim.
Who are the target groups?
BWF works with children, women, youth and the community at large. Since 2002 we have, however, zeroed in on children esp. orphans and destitute. After studying the conditions in J & K, we found that children are the most innocent and vulnerable victims of the conflict. Rehabilitating these children is a very urgent need we cannot ignore anymore.
What steps have you taken towards the same?
Project Basera-e-Tabassum (meaning Abode of Smiles) was launched on May 12, 2002 for the comprehensive rehabilitation of girl children esp. orphans. It’s a right and needs based project and has 25 girls at present in the Home at Village Sulkoote; district Kupwara, J & K. It was a real challenge to establish the Home.
What are the criteria of children that will be addressed by this project?
This project aims to address the girl-child esp. orphans in particular.
Orphans: children without both the parents, with single parent, children of victims of militancy, children orphaned due to natural calamities, children of militants, children of security forces.
Destitute-abandoned children: A child’s either of the both parents’ alive remarries or leaves them behind, illegitimate children.
Why focus only on girls and not on boys?
For the very simple fact that, there were no exclusive Homes or centers of rehabilitation for the girls who were orphaned or abandoned. There are various religious trusts that have accommodated boys in many of the homes they have set up. But it is equally necessary to provide a secure future to girls because the society in which they live cannot ignore any longer that they are equally responsible for the very survival of the society. However, we would be addressing the problems of the boys in the second phase.
What is the situation of orphaned and destitute children in the project area? Approximately how many children have been orphaned? What are the significant problems faced by them?
Very little concrete data (both qualitative & quantitative) exists about the situation of orphans and destitute children. There is not a single comprehensive survey or study that shows the exact number of orphans in the proposed project area. The district social welfare department shows the number to be about 15,524 where as the local population along with the ‘mukhiyas’ or village heads and the teachers of each village put the figure to 25,000. The present sensitive conditions, for which the district is better known as the hotbed of militancy, have prevented the government departments and agencies from conducting the much needed surveys. We have visited more than 300 villages out of 369 and have found the numbers closer to the local population’s estimate.
What is the situation with regard to the orphans in the state?
The overall estimate of the numbers in the whole of J & K is over one lakh or hundred thousand! As mentioned earlier it has been impossible to conduct a comprehensive survey to ascertain the exact numbers, and the above mentioned figure comes from veteran social workers, officials of the state social welfare department and the senior citizens. It is important to note that these children are growing up without guidance and support. They are not deprived of the two square meals, which is normally taken care by relatives and the villagers. They would need direction and guidance which could give them an option for a ‘normal life’. It is important to note that when we mean ‘orphan’, even if the child has his/her mother alive, he/she is considered as an orphan in the state. According to Islam, the child is an orphan once the bread earner of the household deceases.
What are the challenges you have faced and would be facing in the future?
Every minute has been a challenge for us in Kashmir for everything is so uncertain. Being non-Kashmiris and non-Muslims has been a hurdle at every step. No one was taking our idea initially. We were treated with a lot of suspicion and hatred. Of course for them we belonged to the party (India) who is greatly involved in the ongoing conflict. We have been branded as government agents and missionaries trying to convert the children in the garb of social work. We would want live in the present and work. Whatever comes in the future would be faced accordingly.
Has it been worse anytime?
Yes, on a number of occasions. We had the clergy issuing ‘fatwa’ at a Friday mass prayer, members of religious and separatist groups coming over and forcing us to live according to their rules and encounters with militants while we were touring the interiors. At times we have had to stay outdoors when one is not supposed to venture out after 4p.m. Then we have witnessed firing, grenade attacks, live fidayeen (suicide) attacks. It has been a real adventurous time.
Have you ever been scared or felt like giving up or hurt in such an attack?
It has been a miracle that we have never been hurt in such attacks. We have witnessed the Divine protecting us every time. The Grace of the Almighty is what keeps us going and we strongly feel that this is a duty He has assigned to us and we have to perform till He wishes.
How and what is the reaction of the local population towards your work?
Like every work, we also started with the initial hiccup. The ‘Moulvi’ had issued a Fatwa which was formidable enough to keep the DC, the SP and other local authorities away from the inauguration of the Home. But locals had seen us reaching out to those areas where no government officials had ever visited and work for the residents there. So they had a wait and watch approach. We were asked to get out of the district as we had threats to our lives but when we didn’t relent, the locals were convinced about our commitment. Gradually the much needed local support started to build up. Today we have a 15 member local committee of responsible elders belonging to various blocks of the district and a youth executive committee. It is only because of them we are able to function smoothly.
Has the project made any difference?
Yes it has. At three levels. Firstly, it has opened the doors for the girls to know that they are special and they have a life to live and dream about their future. They are the happy smiles of Basera-e-Tabassum and are excelling in all walks of their lives. They are like buds that have had a chance to flower and in doing so they are very happy. Secondly, the community has accepted the importance of girl-child. There was not a single Home for girls exclusively before BeT was launched. The girls were living a shadowed life due to moral and cultural policing and discrimination. Their plight was what made us fight for the launch of BeT. Not a single soul had extended the support. But our perseverance paid in the end and today, educating the girl-child esp. the orphans is a topic for discussion. Thirdly, this project has given us new strength, inspiration and courage to carry on. There was a time when we were very much confused as to what should we do and where to begin. This happens to anyone who would want to do something for Kashmir. It has kept us going even when there were times when we were forced to quit.
How has it changed the lives of the girls?
There are dramatic changes in their lives. When they first came to BeT, they were in pathetic conditions. They were so much infected that their scalp was rotten with lice and worms used to force out of their mouths. We had to disinfect and toilet train them for at least a month. They have learnt to be expressive about themselves, they now know how to aspire and dream about their future. All the girls are going to schools and are doing well in academics; only two girls were going to schools before they came over to BeT. They are growing up to be responsible, caring and loving not only towards each other but also the employees and us. Most important of all, they don’t carry that feeling of being an ‘orphan’ anymore as they feel they are God’s children.
Have other organizations been supportive?
We have had both kinds of reactions from other organizations-positive and negative.
Many organizations after knowing the situation of the children in Kashmir have extended support in whatever way and capacity they can. They have been very supportive morally also. But there are some who have unfortunately perceived us as a threat towards their organization and have resorted to unwanted activities. It is very surprising that people want to desperately monopolize things even in the field of social service. We were threatened by a local organization from Pune to not even think of going and working in Kashmir because they hold the rights! For us, it is more of a spiritual journey than mere social work.
Does BWF receive government funding?
BWF has not received any direct government funding as yet. BWF has been operating and carrying on its projects with the help and support from individuals who are sensitive towards BWF’s cause and from a few NGOs.
How does BWF raise resources or what are the sources of funding?
BWF has been raising its resources from concerned individuals and organizations in the form of sponsors for a child’s or a group of children’s either education or food or clothing or medical expenses. The support is monetary and accepted only in cheque. The other source is in kind, in the form of books and other school stationery, fabric for clothing, warm clothing for the winters.
The problem of Kashmir is very complex and the damages are enormous… how will your efforts or say, my small contribution makes a difference?
It will go on to make a huge difference. Sure it will. If each one of us will think about it and decide to make a difference it will bring in a sea change. Even if it is a single rupee or a dollar, it could pay for a child’s education and health for a day. And, then remember, it is single drops when collected together add up to an ocean! As far as our efforts are concerned, someone has to begin something from somewhere for someone in need!