“I want to bring smiles on the faces of people, each face inspiring me to go further to make more people smile,” said Suhail Mehraj, a youth activist who represented Kashmir at UN Youth Assembly. Suhail is also one of the advisers on the UNDP board.
Suhail, who works with different volunteer initiatives for the welfare of the people in Kashmir, believes in living a resourceful life and aims at educating people on their rights and social responsibilities. He wants to change the perception about Kashmiri youth and improve the education system in the valley.
DS: How do you see yourself different from other youths of velly?
SM: I don’t think that I’m different. I was brought here in the valley only, and I performed every sort of activity here only. I am just performing my duty.
DS: Tell us about your education awareness programme? When did you think or made your mind that you want to do something to improve education scenario in the valley?
SM: I was 16 when I along with my schoolmates decided to work to improve the education situation in Kashmir. What inspired me was that I wanted Kashmir to be a profound learning space that has a good share in the global development. During my conversations with students, I found that learning level was very pathetic. A lot of children couldn’t go to school due to many reasons like lack of financial recourses, motivation, etc. Many were the first generation learners. After witnessing all this, I could not sleep properly. My mind was full of questions like how can we become a developed society if we are unable to educate children properly. I started two-day (Saturday and Sunday) teaching program in a week in my district, selecting areas where education was yet a new thing. I motivated people to educate their children. I made them realise the importance of education and how it could be a tool to bring positive changes in Kashmir and also help them voice their issues. Finally, I got some 250 students of different age group enrolled in my initiative. Some of them were not able to read and write, but within four months the efforts showed results. They were able to read and write. After that, I got about some 45 school dropouts back in school. Last year, I started a campaign to motivate students who had the privilege to be in schools colleges and universities, to help in bringing Kashmir close to the progress, by taking initiating different initiatives.
DS: You are also working with UN. Tell us something about that?
SM: I work with different organs of UN, such as UNDP, UNICEF and ILO as their young advisory member for their various projects in Asia and West Africa. Helping them in forming the ground policies and strategies to meet the goals. Apart from that, I’m also assisting the youth and policymakers of Nigeria for making a difference, advising them on certain issues like Education & Health.
You delivered one speech at UN Youth Assembly on how to enhance education in developing nations. Tell us something about that and share your experience with us.
In February, I got an opportunity to speak in one of the world’s prestigious podium General Assembly as a part of Youth Assembly. I shared views about the initiatives that I started in my state and how I used education as a key to reformation. I stressed upon the fact that there’s a huge young population in the world and that youth should take the responsibility to shape the future of world that is full of positivity and possibilities. We can’t have a good future until we collaborate. If someone is suffering in America or any other place of the world, we can’t be happy in India. We must feel pain for each other, and that pain will get us closer. Today, we have several problems, but when people would join hands, there won’t be a single problem. The best part of my country is that youth have started taking responsibilities in making the world a better place, that’s why I’m here today.
DS: How will you relate development and educational programme in Kashmir?
SM: I would say that development and education should be in equilibrium, with education the priority. Development can only happen when you have education. This can be understood in a way that we need alphabets to even spell development. It’s really hard to think of development if we are not pushing for education. If today we develop two schools they, in turn, will give us infinite ideas and ways for sustainable development. Need to place priority for education first. Everything can wait but not education.
DS: Are you satisfied with the educational policies of the union and state government with respect to Kashmir?
SM: Unfortunately not! The big problem here in the valley is that everything is being ignored, including education, to safeguard the vote banks. Government is nourishing ignorance in many forms. Like incompetent government teachers. So many people are holding a good position in the education department which they don’t deserve. Recently, a teacher, who was in service ofr 16 years, was sacked for providing fake documents at the time of recruitment. Such cases are really heartbreaking. She ruined those 16 years of our students. This is just one of the many such cases. And the other problem is few people are taking advantage and making profits out of the education, and authorities seem to be helpless. If we want a good India, we must place priority for education, why not to turn India into an education hub, so that people from America and Europe come here to learn. That would be the best tribute to the people who sacrificed their lives for this country. They wanted India to lead the world.
DS: If you ever get an opportunity to make education policies for the valley then how will you improve the system?
SM: It will like a dream coming true.
I will place priority for education in all aspects. Free quality education to every child till college. Easy access to education. Home-oriented education. Giving students a proper protocol to live their dream job in the system for a day to encourage them to pursue their goals actively. Will make sure that education takes them close to the traditions and cultures of the nation. Will provide e-library in every locality and vicinity mentors. High placement chance for students of government schools. Will make it mandatory for the school staff and officers to enrol their children in government schools. Constitute senior citizens and youth councils as pressure groups. Exchange programs with different countries. Providing education to differently abled children will be one of the priorities. Exempt of grade system.
Will try to showcase that education holds power to rescues us all from the current issues. Will develop universities like Harvard here in the valley. Making it sure that all the other policies are education friendly. Will make education a non-profit service. Will restrict the area of students of primary level travelling taking care of their health. Will bring equality in the schools so that children of carpenters or casual labours open their lunch boxes with those from the privileged section of the society. If we want to live in the dream nation, we must crave for it now.
DS: Education is the only weapon that can help us improve the condition of the valley. Do you agree with this? Also, what’s your message to the youth who are getting involved in stone pelting?
SM: Indeed! I am a firm believer that education holds power to have an impact on things. There are always better ways and options that one can choose to get things done.
DS: In your opinion what is the biggest challenge before Kashmiri youths?
Insatiability in the structure of the system. Nobody is ready to hug them, to listen to their problem and issues. They always find it hard to get access the system.
DS: Who is your role model and what is your goal and what you want to achieve in your life?
SM: It was my childhood aim to help the people around, and I shall continue it to the limit of my endurance. Sufferings and problems of people are the biggest sources of motivation for me. Every suffering inspires me and boosts me to work more for my people. I even got many good opportunities outside to work and study, but I opted to be here only. So that I can remain close to the problem of people, no matter if I don’t get successful, but I’m chasing on the ground for a better future. I want to bring smiles to the faces of people, each face inspiring me to go more beyond to make more smiles.
DS: What kind of Kashmir you want to see?
SM: A prosperous, full of positivity and possibility. Where social and Human rights are maintained in every aspect. Where everyone can dream with no limits. Where I can revive the old memories with our Kashmiri Pundit brothers, like my ancestors.Where Hindus who migrated from the valley come back.
DS: Is there any way to resolve differences? What is your opinion about current political developments and government policies in Kashmir?
SM: Dialogue is the only way out to end the differences and disturbance. If we fail to initiate the same, we may lose more smiles, and in this way, we are inviting more difficult situation.
DS: What is your message to the people of this country?
SM: Kashmiris are not enemies to anybody; they need to be heard. They always wanted India to prosper in every aspect. They feel pain on its side. Kashmiris want to hug you; they want you to sit with them for a cup of tea. They want to tell you that what is being propagated on the sidelines is not true. They want to tell you the truth. They always share higher regards for you because they believe you only hold the capacity to resolve their impediments.
Kindly press it hard on the system to listen to the common voices of Kashmiris. Please help us to end this difficult time. Kashmiris also want to smile.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma writes for Youth Ki Awaaz on different issues. He is a final year law student and is currently interning at District Court of Delhi.
You can join him on Twitter. His Twitter Account is @withraaz.