Pallavi Sharma was four years old when she lost her father in a militant conflict in Kashmir in 2006. “My father was a driver and he was the breadwinner of the family. We are four siblings and faced a lot of hardships after his demise,” says Pallavi.
The responsibility of the family fell on Pallavi’s mother who worked hard to put food on the table. “My mother would work at a neighbour's house to earn a living. No matter how hard she worked, the money was never enough. We did not have enough to eat and could not go to school,” says Pallavi who hails from Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir. After four years, Pallavi’s mother learnt about a hostel for girls in Jammu and enrolled her there.
The hostel was a godsend for Pallavi. All her necessities including education were taken care of and it made her capable of standing on her feet. Today, Pallavi works in an insurance company in Gurgaon.
“I earn Rs28000 per month. I am happy that I am able to help my mother to run the house. This is just the start of my career. I want to achieve a lot in my life and then do something for the children in Kashmir,” says Pallavi. “I managed to do all of this because of the Borderless World Foundation (BWF), which runs the hostel for girls like me,” says a grateful Pallavi.
The Borderless World Foundation was started by Adhik Kadam who hails from Ahmedabad and lives in Kashmir.
Through his non-profit foundation, he has set up five hostels in Jammu and Kashmir. The first hostel was established in Jammu in 2002 followed by other places in Kashmir. Around 700 girls from Jammu and Kashmir are residing in the hostels.
Adhik says he was detained by militants 19 times.
“I was tortured by them. They thought I was there for an agenda against them. Not only militants, but religious leaders too opposed my work. However, with time people understood my intention and now they have started trusting me,” says Adhik.
Brush with terror
While studying for his graduation in Pune in the mid-90s, he read a lot about terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and would often discuss the conflict with his friends.
“One day we were discussing the issue and it led to a trip plan to Jammu and Kashmir. It was not assigned by the college, but we decided to visit the place. That is how we ended up in Jammu in 1997,” says Adhik who went there with 15 college friends on the 18-day trip.
The group wanted to explore Jammu and Kashmir in those 18 days, but when they were not able to go to Kashmir. “All our other friends left, but I and one of my friends stayed back. We somehow managed to reach Kashmir after a few days,” says Adhik.
One day, Adhik was driving with his friend in Srinagar when he witnessed a shocking incident.
“A bomb blast occurred near an army camp. Due to the impact of the blast, a body part fell on our car. I had heard and read such stories but when I saw it, it totally shook me,” says Adhik, who was 19 then.
He says, “That night I could not sleep. I was praying and thinking about the incident. Early morning I realised that the incident took place in front of me because God wants me to do something for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Adhik extended the visit from 18 days to 3.5 months. He volunteered with a few NGOs and stayed at the houses of locals who hosted him.
After his first visit, Adhik spent 10 months every year in Jammu and Kashmir. “I was volunteering and providing information about the situation in J&K to publications and other organizations. However, nothing was being done for the betterment of the people. That is why I decided to do something here,” says Adhik.
A secure future
Adhik registered his NGO called Borderless World Foundation to start a hostel for orphaned girls and those who had lost their fathers in the militant conflict in Jammu and Kashmir.
After trying for a while to get donations, a Parsi lady funded him to set up the hostel. The first facility was started in Kupwara in 2002.
“I started with four girls. The hostel is like a home for them. Their food, clothes, education and personality development classes are taken care of. We strive to provide not only education but the overall development of the children,” says Adhik, who has chosen to remain single.
On why he opened a hostel for girls, Adhik says in the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, children especially girls were suffering the most after losing their fathers. “We know how important education is. Moreover, if women are educated, they have a huge positive impact on the next generation and society,” says Adhik.
The girls have a tight schedule. They go to Madrasa and then to school in the morning. After coming back from school, they have lunch and rest. Then they are free to play in the evening after which they study and then have dinner.
The girls are given training in driving, public speaking, guest hosting, computer skills, tailoring and cooking.
“We have mentors and teachers for the skill training. We also take girls to other states of India to make them aware of what life looks like beyond Jammu and Kashmir. We help them to participate in various competitions and conferences,” says Adhik.
“Since I started BWF, around 700 girls have been able to turn their lives around. Some are in the medical profession, some are in law, some are pursuing some courses and some have got married and are living a happy life,” says Adhik.
On the education of girls, Adhik says, “They stay in the hostel and are sent to good schools nearby. Once they pass class 12, they are funded through our NGO or scholarships to support further education. After class 10 we provide career counselling and guide them about their profession,” he says.
Those girls whom Adhik has helped also want to pay back to society.
Razia, 24, works in a Japanese firm in Bangalore. “Thanks to BWF, I managed to do engineering and I am working in a renowned company now. It is just the beginning. I am sure with hard work and dedication I can achieve a lot more in life,” she says.
She says her life took a turn for the better because of the help received from BWF. “I want to set up a software start-up in Kashmir to generate employment for the youth,” says Razia.
Apart from the hostels, BWF also runs ambulances and organises health camps in Jammu and Kashmir. The annual expenses of BWF are about Rs1.5 crore excluding the salaries of five-six locals working with the NGO.
“The NGO receives donations to run the hostels and for the education of the girls. I have a plan to set up 10 such hostels across Jammu and Kashmir so that no orphan girl has to struggle for education and basic needs,” says Adhik.
On his journey, Adhik says, “For me, it is not social work, but a spiritual journey.”
(Bilal Khan is a Mumbai-based independent journalist. He covers grassroot issues, LGBTQ community and loves to write positive and inspiring stories.)