“Life is so different here. Back home, my routine consists of going to school and for my tuition classes. It’s just not safe to do much else. We don’t have the freedom to roam about like them,” says Nisha Devi, awed by the people she spots walking by on M G Road. In Gulabgarh Bowl, Kashmir where her home is, daily life walks the thin line between violent political conflict and the desperation for normalcy.
Nisha is on an educational tour of Bangalore, along with 19 other girl students, aged 15-18, from the Valley. The visit has been facilitated by the Indian Army under Operation Sadbhavana, an initiative started in 1998.
Operation Sadbhavana hopes to expose students from Kashmir to the living culture elsewhere in the country and to motivate them towards higher life goals.
For most of the girls on the tour, this year, it is their first time out of Kashmir. The excitement of an itinerary that covers two cities - Bangalore and Chennai - over ten days and of travellling in trains is palpable in the group.
Says Lt Col Atul, who is accompanying the students, “Many of the girls get married straight after school. Trips like these let them interact with people from other states and help them appreciate our diverse culture. It also introduces them to a world of opportunities which hopefully they can take advantage of.”
On Tuesday, the students visited Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum and toured Infosys’ campus in Electronics City. Says Kajal Devi, a student, “It was a very interesting tour and we learnt a lot. I know of physics concepts but getting to see their practical application, today, was very exciting for me.”
Says Zarifa Banoo Malik, one of the three teachers accompanying the students, "This was a huge experience not just for the students but also us. I am loving the train travel. It’s the first time I am doing so.”
Most of the students hail from areas that are strife-prone and some have lost close relatives to militancy. Life is hard and many of the girls walk two hours a day to get to schools where teachers aren’t always up to the standard. “This is why a trip like is a golden learning opportunity for them,” says Lt Col Atul.
One would assume that the students’ parents would have been hesitant to let their daughters take the tour. Says Lt Col Atul, “Initially, some were unsure, but as one-by-one the girls started signing up, several other parents felt reassured and allowed their daughters to join. In fact, by the end of it, we had more applicants than we could accommodate.” With a visit to Bishop Cottons School on Wednesday, the students will bid adieu to Bangalore and head to Chennai.