SRINAGAR: A group of 20 boys from restive South Kashmir will be taken by the army on a tour across India to showcase India’s development and culture, a senior army officer said on Sunday.
The idea struck Major General BS Raju, General Officer-Commanding Victor Force, the army’s anti-insurgency grid responsible for much of South Kashmir, when he was interacting with young boys who had been caught for throwing stones at security forces during counter-insurgency operations. “One can easily make out that they indulge in stone pelting because that is what they have seen while growing up. They are prisoners of the images that they see around them since their birth,” Maj Gen Raju said, adding quite a few did not even know why they were throwing stones.
“It was surprising to find that many of them threw stones just out fun,” he said.
The army officer, who is a father of a son and a daughter, decided to go by the rule book of a parent: he started interacting with the stone throwers informally.
Recalling late President APJ Abdul Kalam’s quote, “Dream, dream, dream! Conduct these dreams into thought, and then transform them into action”, the senior-most officer of the army in south Kashmir said he started counselling the young students on their careers.
“When one talks to them, one finds that they, too, have dreams. Because of unforeseen circumstances, these dreams have no wings. My only attempt is to give wings to their dreams and that is why I thought 20 such children should be taken around India under the army’s Sadhbhavna scheme,” he said. The army, with the help of local police, has now started identifying youths who will be taken to Delhi, where they will meet people in the government, and then to Mumbai, Jaipur and other places.
“President Kalam seemed to be a much respected figure with these children. I spoke of his statements about India’s diversity to them. It was heartening to find these boys listening with rapt attention and raising some valid questions,” he said.
The attempt, he said, was to shape their lives. “If we can contribute the bare minimum, it will definitely be an achievement,” he said.
The army believes that the children after returning from their multi-city tour will narrate their experiences to other young Kashmiris, encouraging them to join the next group.
“For that they don’t have to pick up stones,” the officer said. “All they need to do is approach their own army and the needful will be done.” During their many interactive sessions with the children, army officers found that many of the youngsters who came from troubled areas of south Kashmir, had not even seen the scenic beauty of the Kashmir Valley.
It was, therefore, decided that groups of children — 90 per cent of whom had been siding with “trouble makers” and 10 percent from Army Goodwill and other schools — would be taken around picturesque regions such as Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Yusmarg, Major-General Raju said.