Kausaruddin Najjar is sure that had he continued living in Kashmir he would have been waylaid by militants or picked up by the army on suspicion.
The 21-year-old native of Phulwama in Jammu and Kashmir now stays in Pune where he is pursuing a degree in Commerce.
Najjar is among the several young boys and girls who have left the violence of the valley to come to Maharashtra’s education capital where, they say, the environment is conducive to studies.
“Strikes are so frequent in J&K that even teachers don't come to school regularly and our studies get affected,” said another student, Noor Mohammed Basu. One of these students, Abu Khan (name changed), was one kidnapped by militants back home.
He is now going to the US to complete a post-graduate diploma in media studies.
NGOs based in Maharashtra, the first state to reserve seats in colleges for students from the valley, help students like Khan and Najjar get away from militancy and pursue academics.
“Generally, Kashmir is selling point [for tourism] and people only know about the stunning scenery and the extremism there. But nobody wants to do anything for the children there,” said Sanjay Nahar of Sarhad, an NGO that has adopted and educated more than 105 children from J&K since its inception in 1997.
Sarhad also facilitated a Memorandum of Understanding between the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and Pune Municipal Corporation for an exchange of ideas on civic issues.
Other Pune NGOs, Jnana Prabhodini and Borderless World Foundation, are also working with Kashmiri youth. Sarang Gosavi of Jnana Prabhodini said, “When we first showed children in Kupwara, Badgoan and Bijbihara a computer in 2003 they mistook it for a television.”
Gosavi said the aim is to bridge the gap between J&K and other states. “We want to bring them into the mainstream.”
Some children who undertook computer training from Jnana Prabhodini are now teaching computers at Anantanag University and are also part of the government-run Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan.
Stories from the valley
He almost picked up a gun
I have seen the blood,” said 16-year-old Zahid Bhatt, who grew up in Badgoan.
Bhatt, whose father rears sheep for a living, understood the meaning of terrorism at the tender age of eight. He always said he wanted to become a terrorist.
“They [the army and police] used to trouble the villagers and harass them for no fault of theirs,” Bhatt recalled. “They would abuse them and beat them mercilessly. I could not tolerate this and would think I could stop this only if I had a gun.”
Schools were bad, Bhatt said, and he lost interest in studies. His parents, concerned about his way of thinking, sent him to Sarhad in Pune.
Bhatt recently took his Class 10 examination. And his ambitions have undergone a sea change too.
“I want to enter politics,” he said. “I am sure one day I will become Chief Minister.”
Ateq Khan (name changed)
Decided to leave home
Eighteen-year-old Ateq Khan (name changed) grew up in an atmosphere of extremism.
His father was a militant and he took young Khan to terrorist training camps with him.
His father was killed in 2004. A resident of Anantanag, Khan decided to leave the Valley
and come to Pune, Maharashtra’s education capital, three years ago.
That decision saved him from becoming a terrorist, he said. Khan has now completed Class 10.
He enjoys theatre and wants to be an actor some day.
Aslam Khan (name changed)
He is heading to America
Thirty year old Aslam Khan (name changed) said he never thought he would get an opportunity to go to the United States of America.
Khan is leaving for the USA on Monday to pursue a postgraduate diploma in media studies.
Life would have been different for Khan if would not have shown his valour 15 years ago when he was abducted by militants in Kashmir. Khan, the son of a religious leader, grabbed an opportunity to escape and returned home from the terrorist training camp.
He came to Pune in 2006 and decided there was no looking back. He first acquired a Masters degree in communication followed by a Masters degree in comparative religion. Khan will stay in the US for a year. After that, he said, he wants to return to his village and work for people there.