My Kashmir Files: Unsung Teachers Inspire a Campaign in Shivaliks

They remain unsung their whole life! I wanted to celebrate their worth and preserve their values for their communities to cherish. So this year, I started to work towards further institutionalizing these awards and started designing a campaign for the wider hilly region of Jammu with the sole aim of giving something that my region lacks – Opportunities and Self-Worth! 

By Venus Upadhayaya 

My time in my ancestral home in Jammu as a child was many times about stories of far flung villages where my father and his two brothers served as teachers. I don’t remember the specific details but it was always about getting up super early and trekking to schools in far flung hills, inaccessible by roads and transport.

I remember once trekking to a temple with my uncle–while it took us four hours to reach the temple, it took him only one hour. He walked on a steep and straight path uphill. It may sound like fun but it’s not. Mountain life is tough and challenging compared to the many comforts urban, market-led economies offer.

Much later as I started to write on geo-politics in the region I discovered new meanings of those stories and anecdotes. During conflict and chaos as governance kept facing impediments in my region in Jammu, these teachers remained the most functional and resourceful people in the otherwise inaccessible hills.

In an otherwise redundant society, a public school teacher’s profession remained one of the most coveted and also remained a bribe-free job. 

If today certain hilly regions are more educated with higher rates of employment it is because of such teachers. The relationships then developed remained strong and existent beyond school life.

I remember at least three decades ago, an aunt’s brother had cut off his apple orchard to create a playground for his school in the Bani region. I have tasted one apple from that orchard and I can understand what a loss it would have been. In those days reaching his village needed hours of bus journey followed by many hours long trek or journey on mules.

I’m amazed by the contribution of the teaching community in these far-flung hilly regions of my home. Let’s just compare it with a few conflict situations in other parts of the world.

Thus when I started to look back at my region with a wish to give back, with this whole context in mind, I started in 2019 a campaign called “Ham Honge Kamyab” meaning “We Shall Overcome”.

It started with facilitating such unsung retired teachers who had spent their lives serving far flung hilly communities in the Shivalik regions of Jammu. And we started with building a school library in my village, Bhaddu, that these teachers inaugurated!

Hand written journal by kids under Hum Honge Kamyab campaign

Ham Honge Kamyab 

It’s important that we understand the context of this campaign further. The facilitation event we conducted in 2019 was attended by 600 citizens of Bhaddu village in Billawar tehsil.

When the event ended, a few children came to me with two boys from their grade. They described them to me as those not good in studies and requested if I could “employ them as househelp.” Ironic that even in today’s age that’s the best opportunity they could think for two young boys with bad grades!

This is a very common story from the Shivalik hills of Jammu. I have often seen children from far-flung poor families working as helpers in the homes of rich families in the midlands. If the employer is kind, the child gets enrolled in a government school with someone educated in the family lending support.

In many cases the children ended up doing household chores, finally graduating from homes to the farm of their employers. Things are not like this anymore and a lot of people have started migrating for work in factories in urban centers even in other states from this region.

So as I started developing this campaign “Hum Honge Kamyab” I had this whole context in mind. Because of my upbringing as a community worker in inclusive, democratic and value-driven institutions focused on education and social change, I started identifying amazing stories of pahadi people fighting great odds for small things in life.

Some of the awardees of Citizens’ Excellence Awards under Hum Honge Kamyab Campaign 2022

Facilitating Super-Senior Citizens 

This year’s campaign was focused on super-senior citizens. The idea was to make the community aware about the demographic shift the villages are experiencing with young people migrating to cities leaving the older people behind.

We facilitated seven super senior citizens in the age group of 88-96 years. This included a 95-year-old former bodyguard of Maharaja Hari Singh and also the Presidential Guard of India’s first President, Rajendra Prasad. Another is a former forest ranger who, even at the age of 93 years, feels driven to extinguish fires in forests surrounding his village.

A former, award-winning Gram Sevak who writes poems in Dogri on social issues, a 93-year-old upholder of an unsung heritage, a teacher who had dropped out from school as a child but now is the chairperson of a school, another forester and a former Urdu teacher.

With these seven people, representatives of three schools, about 300 children and 150 parents and grandparents we celebrated the Ham Honge Kamyab day on Nov. 26. The final event was funded by a small grant from Sama Foundation, a Bangalore based NGO and the event partner was a local school called Jawahar Model High School, Phinter.

Two days before the facilitation day, three young boys aged 17, 17 and 18 years including two school students tragically drowned in a near-by river under suspicious circumstances. Thus the administration which was scheduled to participate in the senior citizen’s facilitation had to rush to meet the bereaved families and attend the deceased’s cremation. The incident is under investigation but it triggered conversations in the community about similar incidents of drowning of young boys and issues posed by increased influx of narcotics in the region.

People in administration shared concerns about disturbing undercurrents in the region and how cameras are being installed in pharma shops to control the sale of syringes to unauthorized people.

The situation made me aware about the increasing drug peddling happening in the region and the challenging circumstances existing in schools and colleges. Drug peddling is turning into a serious menace in the tri-junction between Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district.

Ham Honge Kamyab, thus feels the need to work towards building community’s knowledge about the constitutional rights of children and about the need for schools to build “Life Skill Education” in their curriculum. To achieve this I’m working towards designing a year-long training program for a community of teachers in the region with the help of two national NGO and a few local stakeholders.

I wish 2023 brings more capacity building for the local communities, more awareness and above all more self-worth and opportunities for these hilly regions of Jammu and Kashmir UT.

The writer is a Senior Reporter – India and South Asia with The Epoch Times. She is also researching the history, culture and the geopolitical significance of Jammu and Kashmir, her ancestral home. Email: [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times  

Images courtesy of Image Provided and Provided

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