Sarhad: Where differences melt

Here students from various conflict torn regions of India come close to each other



It has been often called as Oxford of the East and the Pensioners Paradise, but Pune has fast become a melting pot for several cultures and even the students from Kashmir are not hesitating to wear the Puneri pagdi .
On the last working day, before Katraj-based Sarhad school shuts for its annual Diwali vacations, the students mesmerize the audiences with their multi-lingual abilities at a cultural event at the school premises. Robust and poignant performances by Kashmiri students singing Marathi songs and Marathi students dancing to the tunes of famous bollywood number  “bumbro bumbro” from the movie Mission Kashmir is a part of Sarhad’s cross-cultural exchange initiative
“We want Kashmiri students to excel in Marathi language and local students to have an exposure to English and other languages apart from Marathi.” says Sanjay Nahar, President, Sarhad. The students at Sarhad have not disappointed Sanjay. Apart from their fluency in Marathi, several students from Sarhad have topped in Marathi at the Board exam levels. Sarhad school has a total roll of 1800 students out of which around 90 Kashmiri students receive free education and lodging.
Sarhad which is a home to children from the Valley and even Ladakh has become synonymous with Jammu and Kashmir and even the auto-rickshaw drivers in Pune seem to acknowledge this. Sarhad recently got its first orphan Joginder Singh from the Jammu division and while on my way to meet the 17-year old Joginder at Sarhad’s children’s home, the rickshawala, to my surprise, made a quick and no-frills ride to the Pune-Kashmir maitri chowk, a square which was officially named so by Pune Municipal Corporation after being approached by Sarhad. As a Kashmiri, I found solace when the rickshawala said, “Yeh aapka Kashmir chowk aa gaya”, but the joy was short-lived as I met Joginder. Joginder, who hails from district Doda, lost his entire family to indiscriminate firing and had a narrow brush with death. An injury mark on his forehead is a grim reminder of Joginder’s traumatic childhood. In the company of other kids from the valley, a smile is back on Joginder’s face. Dogri being his mother tongue, Joginder has now started understanding Kashmiri and Marathi as well. His tragic past might have brought to fore the harsh reality of violence hit Jammu and Kashmir but as Joginder shares food from the plate of his Kashmiri Muslim friends at Sarhad, he becomes a testimony of the real friendship.
Mukhtar Ahmed, son of a retired government teacher from Budgam district in Kashmir valley came to Pune in year 2004; this being his first visit outside the valley. Mukhtar was 13 then and had spent early days of his childhood in the shadow of violence in Kashmir. He was one among a batch of several Kashmiri students, who found a home away from home at Sarhad. Mukhtar introduces himself in chaste Marathi. He is now a student of Physiotherapy at prestigious Sancheti Insitite of Physiotherapy in Pune and says his father back home would be most benefitted once he completes his degree and achieves his dream of becoming a Physiotherapist . “My father is  old  and usually suffers from acute knee pain. He regularly needs physiotherapy. I am hoping to go back to the valley once I complete my degree and serve my father and the state.” says Mukhtar. He even says that he loves the traditional Maharashtrian feast varan-bhaat now, although it took him a bit to adjust to the food in Pune. 
The Kashmiri and local students at Sarhad school are playing a pivotal role to beat the stereotypes. At the annual fancy dress competition at the school, the tiny tots are dressed in a manner to represent the vast social and cultural diversity of India. From sporting a cop’s uniform to traditional Maharashtrian “Lavani” dress and a traditional Kashmiri gown called “Pheran”, the kids add to the colourful stage decorated to mark Diwali and Eid celebrations.  Sushma Nahar, Principal at the Sarhad school says, “Since Eid was  celebrated two weeks back and Diwali is just round the corner so we decided to celebrate both the occasions together.” says. In an attempt to extend its work for the strife-torn people of the North-East, Sarhad is now intending to enroll students from Assam as well. Sarhad has roped in people such as well known social activist Alka Sarma Desai from North-East, who recently visited Sarhad’s campus to facilitate the process of bringing students from the strife-torn regions of Assam to Sarhad.  As I leave Sarhad premises and bid good-bye to the kids, I hope this golden quadrangle of cultures from across the country is a lesson to preach true secular fabric of India.

Lastupdate on : Fri, 16 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 16 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 17 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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