NEW DELHI: When 26-year-old Arushi Ralli used the Dari words dostat daaram (English translation: I love you) in one of her counselling sessions, she noticed that the attendees were overjoyed. For the first time, her Dari-speaking participants—Afghan asylum seekers and refugees in India—felt seen, almost as if they sensed recognition in a country far away from home. This is when Ralli, a Mayur Vihar-based psychologist, decided to address the detachment that these refugees experience in India. The solution she came up with was simple. She joined hands with Laila* (28), an Afghan asylum-seeker in India, to establish Dari classes in the capital.
Breaking the barriers
Languages allow us to foster connections. Often, for the Afghan community in India, communicating with those around them is a constant challenge. Most elderly members of the community do not know a language other than Dari—the lingua franca in Afghanistan. In fact, they rely heavily on multilingual people from within the community to help them liaise with Indians. More often than not, this deters them from bonding with residents.
When Ralli started conducting sessions around four years ago, she was cognizant of the language divide between the counsellees and her. She hired a translator to help her overcome this barrier during her sessions. While these translations would help Ralli comprehend speech, she realised it did no justice in understanding their emotions. Instead of asking the refugees to learn a new language, the counsellor implored Indians to learn Dari so as to make the community feel at home.
Talking about these classes, which commenced a day after the Taliban gained control over Kabul, Ralli recalls, “I was scheduled to have a session with them [the refugees] that day. I wasn’t sure how that would play out but decided to go ahead with it anyway. After that session, many of them ended up crying. Since I didn’t know Dari, I felt I could cry with them but not comfort them.” She started learning Dari from Laila* ever since. “It is [learning Dari] similar to how we welcome people home—with warmth and love that they deserve,” she adds.
A class connect
Laila* and Ralli have adopted an interactive learning process for these classes, in which the former uses audio-visual mediums to teach her students. With prices starting from Rs300 per session, these classes are conducted online once every week.
Over the last two months, a number of learners have joined in to learn Dari. Laila* and her students have been able to cultivate a deep connection. S Shamili (27), a student who joined the classes in September, says, “For me, it is not just a language class but a way to support the Afghans.” Happy with the response, Arushi and Laila* are now planning to organise classes about Afghan culture to help cultivate a deeper connection between Indians and their community.
An arduous task
Even though many have given their seal of approval to these classes, it has been difficult to ensure that payments reach Laila* on time. Access to bank accounts can be tricky for asylum-seekers, and Laila* is no exception. In fact, this has been a recurring issue for several Afghan refugees in India, who have also been facing a cash crisis since the Taliban takeover.
*Name changed on request.