Basera-e-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 gunfire than to cradlesongs, seeing more corpses than toys and mourning more than smiling. The center was set up on May 12, 2002, in Sulikoot, a village onekilometer away from Kupwara town.
To save both the lives and minds of children from the psychosomatic disorders and the inhumanity caused by the armed conflict, which erupted in 1990s in Kashmir, Borderless World Foundation (BWF), a Pune base NGO took up the initiative in 1997 and visited the strife torn and the then militancy hotbed Kupwara for project survey.
The BWF found ample count of orphans, most of them being the children of slain militants. In 2002, the organization foundedBasera-e-Tabassum “Abode of smiles”. This rehabilitation center is exclusively meant for girls, aiming at fighting for their basic rights, survival, development and participation.
The project is the brainchild ofAdhik&Bharati, who were in their teens when they came to Kashmir for project study. The duo hail from well-off business families in Pune.
Shunning the metropolitan comforts and the luxurious life at home, Bharti and Adhik embraced a mission when they chose this backward area. “We had to tread a very difficult and treacherous path to accomplish the mission. Initially we had to face very tough time because we were strangers in a strange land. No one knew us here. But gradually we explored the route and things turned easy,” says Adhik, who presently is the chairperson of the NGO, Borderless world Foundation.
“The concept of borderless world foundation (BWF) originated in 1997, when we started work in this strife-torn and highly disturbed land. During work here, we would often realize that people of nation have failed to serve this, emotionally, physically and psychologically ruined population,” says Adhik.
“We were deeply struck when we visited the villages of Kupwara and found girls of a very tender age stuck in trauma. Their fathers took up the arms and they were left to bear the brunt of violence. I don’t say militancy is responsible for everything but it certainly victimized the children to a great extent,” says Bharti.
In the beginning Basera-e-tabassum took in just four girls. “We used to convince locals that this project would benefit the needy but the clerics would hinder our progress because the feared us as proselytizers and even fatwa was issued against us. But gradually locals shouldered the work and we succeeded in winning the hearts of people,” recounts Adhik.
Once, during their field research Bharti and Adhikwere confronted by militants who asked them a number of debilitating questions about their motives.
“The militants understood everything when we explained to them about our project. They didn’t do anything with us instead they acclaimed us highly for this humanitarian effort and also apologized,” says Adhik, the Chairperson of BWF.
“It was not the end. Our being Hindus, made everyone to doubt us. We were picked up by militants nearly nineteen times. But every time our luck, resilience, determination and perseverance saved us. Many times in Kandi Handwara and Dardpora Kupwara, Poutashay and Chandigam Lolab we had to face the questions from militants.”
Baser-e-tabassum Sulikoot at present houses 55 girls, age 3 to 20 years. Fifty girls are studying in private schools and rest five in government schools. The eldest among these girls is studying in first year at Government Degree College Kupwara. She has been in this center for the last ten years.
Jameela, a girl who hails from Kukroosa, is presently studying science (11th class) in Fergusson College Pune, has grown up in Basera-e-tabasum. Her militant fatherwas killed a few months after she was born.
The surprising but praiseworthy tale related to this project is about a young lady, SaleemaBhat, who has been managing the entire functioning of this center for last nine years, most of times in absence of its founders.She is working as the project coordinator for Basera-e-Tabassum “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. Adhik has high regard for Saleema. “She is a goddess. I am elder to her but she is my mother. A mother can’t take care of her own child the way she cares.”
Nearly one and a half lac rupees is 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 girls here. The aim of the project is to ensure a complete family environment, by guaranteeing the love as well as equal care, which refrains them (girls) to think about their homes.
“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 WayanGundisana and 28 DivHed Quart, Zangali. They helped us at the time when there was none to come forward. During last year summer unrest, JKAP used to get us gas cylinders here and also deliver some edible stuff. Whenever we would go on winter tour, most of the arrangements were made by them,” says SaleemaBhat. “The main source of funding has been the people of Pune. They are regularly aiding us to run these orphanages,” says Adhik.
“Working in Kashmir, I realized that it is the Land of affectionate and fair humans. Whether, it was militants, army or the local Kashmiris, no one did harm us. Instead we were encouraged by everyone,” adds Adhik.