National Integration Tours: Creating goodwill in Kashmir

Mallika Singh
When the Army engaged in what it terms ‘Operation Sadbhavna’, it began to engage with the Awaam- the general public- through goodwill initiatives, the intention being of making this goodwill felt in the interiors of the state- down to the very last border village. The focus and target audience being the innocent children of the state. As part of this initiative toward conflict resolution in troubled areas, a number of programmes were launched which were focused on development of remote and inaccessible areas thus lessening a sense of alienation among the Awaam? A populace that was forced to witness, engage in, and be on the receiving end of violence, desensitization toward thisviolence is a very difficult effect to undo.
However, with a holistic sociological and geographical approach to development, the army attempts to puts its best foot forward. One important aspect of operations under Sadbhavna is the conduct of National Integration Tours, which aim to familiarize people from remote as well as conflict-ridden areas with the expanse of the nation that is beyond the Himalayas.
Most of the participants of such tours happen to be from economically weaker sections of the society, thereby contributing in their isolation from rest of the country. The Integration Tour, therefore, acts not only as a tool to increase cultural and geographical awareness, but also as a channel through which this isolation can be less pronounced. A noteworthy aspect is that the participants get to meet various dignitaries of the government and other achievers. The President, Prime Minister, Minister of Human Resource and Development, the Minister of Defence are few of the many portfolio holders in the government who have interacted with the participants. In addition to that, the participants have also met Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, Vice Chancellors and academicians of various universities, and other prominent members of the sport and film community.
Northern Command of Indian Army, in the last three years, has conducted 285 such tours, wherein nearly 7,000 people have participated, with about thirty percent of the participants being female. Additionally, 169 Maulvis and senior citizens have also been an integral part of these tours. The Goodwill initiative is rather optimistic objective of creating long-term benefits of the community at large remains. A child from eastern Ladakh, a region where not even a blade of grass can thrive, now may have access to the rapid metros of Delhi and the aromatic biryanis of Hyderabad. Even if this access lasts for a small duration, given the hardiness and the inquisitive nature of children, especially of children from troubled Jammu and Kashmir, what they take from these tours can be limitless.
History has always portrayed an army as the defensive guardian first and the offensive warrior second. History has also shown us plenty armies that have been used as tools of oppression. As the face of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir changes parallel to the changing face of the Awaam and the political class, the Indian Army plays a very delicate role in the area. Through Sadbhavna, however, this role, in its delicacy, will see history portray the army as a harbinger of development and change.

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