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Basera-e- Tabassum – Healing The Spirits

(Mr. Mudasir Peer, Media Times, Kashmir University)


Healing young children’s wounds allows them to survive a war or a conflict but \healing their spirits may prevent the next war or a conflict. And that is what they do!Baserae-Tabassum (Abode of Smiles), a rights and needs based comprehensive rehabilitation centre came up at a time when the children of valley were sleeping to the rumble of guns instead of cradlesongs, seeing more corpses than toys and mourning more than smiling.


The center was set up on May 12, 2002, in Sulikoot, a village two kilometers away from Kupwara town. To save both the lives and minds of children from the psychosomatic disorders and the brutality caused by the armed struggle, which erupted in 90s here in Kashmir, Borderless World Foundation (BWF), a Pune base NGO took up the initiative in 1998 and visited the strife torn and the then militancy hotbed Kupwara for project survey. After an extensive study in several villages of Kupwara district, the BWF found ample count of orphans, most of them being the children of slain militants.


Later, in 2002, the organization notified the land and set the center at Sulikoot in 2002 and named it Basera-eTabassum. This rehabilitation center is exclusively for girls; aiming at fighting for their basic rights to, survival, development and participation. Bharti Mamani and Adhik Kadam, the co-founders of Basera-e-Tabassum, then in teens, were just two people, when they proposed this project. The duo hail from well-off business families of Pune. Turning away from the metropolitan comforts and the luxurious life at home, Bharti and Adhik embraced a tough mission when they chose a terrain, which at beginning put even their lives in at risk. But their determination and commitment gradually paid off. “We had to tread a treacherous path to catch up on the mission. Initially, in the face of perilous circumstances, we had to face very tough time because we were strangers in a strange land. But there was no option except to take the bull by the horns. Gradually we explored the route and things turned easy” says Adhik, who presently is the chairperson of the NGO. Adhik feels that people living in cities are indifferent to the population living on the extremes of rim lands. “They are least bothered about the life of people living in border areas. But their impervious approach can’t do any good to country. You see, if we overlook these orphans today can we anticipate a better tomorrow?” Children, he says, are the main victims whenever a tragedy breaks in, “and we must not play blind to prevent them from entering the victimhood”. “The concept of the BWF originated in 1998, when we started work in this strife-torn land. During the work here, we would often realize that people of nation have failed to serve to the people living here”, says Adhik.


Adhik says that the life of people in the border areas of Kashmir is choke-full with grief, chaos, uncertainty, fear, and violence. “The inert socioeconomic setup, corruption and the administrative breakdown has pushed every life in border areas into the mess,” he adds. Talking about the orphans, Adhik says nearly 24000 children were orphaned during militancy and most of them were found in pathetic state. He says, “We were deeply struck when we visited the villages of Kupwara and found girls of a very tender age stuck with trauma. Their fathers took up the arms and they were left to endure the most. I don’t say militancy is responsible for everything but it certainly victimized the children to a great extent.”


At the beginning of Basera-eTabassum, there were only four girls. Initially the center had to face difficulties because the local support was less and most of people created fuss after being provoked by the local clerics that the project might be some proselytization center and might cause harm to religion. “We used to convince locals that this project would benefit the needy but the clerics would hinder our work because they feared us to be proselytizers and even a fatwa was issued against us. But gradually locals shouldered the work and we succeeded in winning the hearts of people”, recounts Adhik Kadam.


Bharti and Adhik had a close shave one day when they were travelling through Gussi, a village 4kms away from Kupwara. “During the field study, we were travelling through Gussi, when all of a sudden a group of militants cropped up and stopped us. We had almost given up the chances of further living, because every day we would hear about killings. But they understood everything when we explained to them about our project. They didn’t harm us instead they acclaimed our project and were apologetic”, says Adhik. “I remember a militant telling us then that, a true Muslim can’t think of killing you because you are on a noble mission”, he recalls. Baser-e-Tabassum Sulikoot at present houses 55 girls, aged3 to 20 years. Fifty girls are studying in private schools and rest five in government schools. The eldest among these girls is studying in 2nd year. She has been in this center for last ten years.


The lives of these children were hit by trauma and chaos the time they were brought here. But the proper counseling, care and education stand as the watersheds in their lives. Jameela, a girl who hails from Kukroosa, is presently studying science (12th class) at Fergusson College Pune, has grown up in Basera-e-Tabasum. Her militant father was killed few months after she was born. Being an orphan and observing how other girls of her age were loved by theirs fathers, Jameela would turn sad. She too wanted to be happy but had no one to care for her. In May 2002, her mother brought her to Basera-eTabassum. Initially she had to face problems, because she could not communicate in Hindi with Bharti and Adhik. She was admitted into a private school. Two years ago Jameela passed 10thwith distinction and the following year she got admission in the prestigious Fergusson CollegePune. The BWF is funding all her education.


The surprising but praiseworthy tale related to this project is about a young lady, Saleema Bhat, who has been managing the entire functioning of this center for last nine years and most of the times in absence of its founders. She is working as the project coordinator at this time in the centre. Maintaining a mild tune in talking and a light smile covering her face, Saleema Bhat says her happiness is firmly attached to Basera-e-Tabassum. Whosoever visits this center, she has an earnest request in advance, that no one should utter the word ‘orphan’ as she feels hurt. She says they are her children, although she is yet to get married. “At the beginning it seemed to be a very tough job to manage the lives of children especially the nascent ones but now I don’t need to put a Herculean effort. I don’t want to move away from my children and I really can’t afford separation. My life is clutched in their souls”, says Saleema. The children here call her Didi meaning elder sister. Adhik has high esteem for Saleema. He has no word to praise her but he only says, “She is a goddess. I am elder to her but she is my mother. A mother can’t care her child the way she cares these children in the centre”. Adhik spends eight months in Kashmir every year and rest four months in Pune but does seldom visit to Sulikoot, because he has to look after other two projects; one in Ananthnag and other in Beerwah, Budgam. Therefore, Saleema has been permanently holding the fort of this center and managing every single work: maintaining discipline, looking over the school work of girls, their meals, their neatness etc.


Basera-e-Tabassum has computers along with internet facility also. Three computers sets have been kept for the children here to use in spare time. To stay updated with knowledge of different things, they make most of the internet. Saleema says girls here also talk to Jameela, who is presently in Pune via video chatting. In addition to computer and internet facility, there is also a television set, which has a satellite dish connection; letting children to access nearly 200 channels, which cater a wide variety of programs mainly related to news, sports, music, daily soap operas, movies, cartoons and many other educational programs. Nearly one and a half lac rupees are spent every month on this Rehabilitation Center (BeT). This amount goes into the meals, paying school fee, purchasing uniforms, books and note-books, bags and other daily commodities needed by the children here. The aim of the project is to ensure a complete family environment, by guaranteeing the love as well as equal care, which refrains children here from the home reminiscences.


Every year in summers, each girl is given two dresses and two shoes and in winters, one firaaq-shelvar, Pheran (a traditional gown) and shoes. This is compulsory procedure but usually there is extra supply from Pune, so they get more clothes. “There has not been any aide from the locals but I must not downplay the role of JK-armed police battalion, which is staying in Wayan Gundisana. It helped us at the time when there was none to come forward. During 2010 summer unrest, they would get us gas cylinders. Whenever we would go on winter tour, most of the arrangements would be made by them”, says Saleema Bhat, adding that army too has be actively aiding from the last one year.


The locals have been highly acclaiming this effort of Borderless World Foundation. “I live in vicinage to this center. I have been constantly witnessing their rigorous efforts, aiming at alleviating the poor and needy, the abandoned and deprived. I must appreciate BWF team for giving a voice to these innocent souls and teaching them how to stand on their own feet. They were orphaned at an age when they needed to nap in their parent’s laps. But now their abode is this center, where we see them smiling always” says a local.


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