(Ms. Kalpana Tikku is the Managing Trustee of "ARNIMAAL," a voluntary Organization working in the valley, that primarily deals with children. )
The Orphan Care System
Bismah from Bemina is a very quiet child. She does not open up easily if you are a stranger. Her eyes depict a lot of pain she is hiding deep within. For a child of 12, you see an unexplainable complacency in her. She was barely a few months when her father was picked up by the security forces, never to return. The conditions in which she lives, with her mother and brother, are not very conducive for her upbringing; hostile treatment is meted out to them by her grandfather. Then on the other hand I see Sahil, a 15 year old who again was barely a year old when his father faced similar circumstances. He is staying with his younger sister, mother and grandparents. The grandparents, who are now aging, are worried about him, as they are unable to control his wayward behaviour at times. His younger sister is too brash and was earlier giving a lot of behavioural problems. Now she has started improving after I got in touch with both the children and started intervening. Faizan, an extremely sensitive and intelligent child has started showing signs of getting out of hand because of the complexes he has started developing. He stays with his mother and maternal uncle’s family. He watches his cousins being given preferential treatment. He knows that he cannot demand from anyone and misses a father figure.
Apart from Kashmir, there are many orphans in the Jammu Division as well, who in fact are worse off as they lack attention in comparison to the ones in Kashmir. They have almost been abandoned by the state. No one seems to remember them or even talk about them as if they do not exist; although they are victims of the same conflict. I have encountered numerous cases like the above ones and they all make me wonder what have we become as a society? There are orphans in orphanages and orphans at homes with either mothers or guardians. Those in orphanages have their material needs met, and those at homes have to some extent their emotional requirements fulfilled, owing to the presence of the mother around them. But in both instances something still remains wanting.
Most of the orphans I have met in Kashmir are very bright, more so than the average child living under normal circumstances. They are ambitious, they want to rise and they look forward to having their own houses. During a counseling workshop I had with them, it was shocking to find out that all they wanted to see was either Gulmarg, Pahalgam or Nishat Garden. I took them out for a picnic once and that was the time they saw a houseboat for the first time. They lack attention. This is a collective responsibility of the community. What ultimately affects them is not just the actual loss of a parent, or parents, but the process of being left behind by everybody and the resultant social and material deprivation. We see so many orphanages around whereas the institutionalization of orphans should be the last thing to happen. The preference should be for continued familial support, popularly known as home-based care. The emphasis needs to be on “assisting/empowering the extended families with skills to earn income to meet cash needs and enable them to procure enough food and other domestic items for the family. One wonders how a social fabric capable of effectively providing support to the orphans, based on social morality, could be reconstructed! Can the process of the erosion of family ties and the “collapse of the spirit of voluntarism" as a result of the rising individualism reversed? This entails community mobilization and the involvement of community leaders, use of traditional structures and channels of communication, voluntarism and voluntary participation and the integration of orphans in the community.
This should be accompanied by the acceptance of the importance of local communities as change agents. Hence the call now is for the "community based" organizations to take a leading role in orphan care. There has to be a sense of "ownership" of the problem by the community, increased participation, and social re-bonding to avoid societal breakdown.
Schools should provide orphans with strong social support to help them adjust and feel appreciated. Interventions in the form of guidance and counseling need to be used as tool to assists orphans in developing confidence to face challenges in life. Has any systematic studies been carried out during the past two decades to address this question? Counseling and Child Psychology should be taught to teachers, health care providers and parents/ guardians. All schools should have a child guidance counselor to help not only the orphans and other vulnerable children but also their caretakers and the teachers in dealing with the children. Families with orphans should be helped in terms of food security, income generation and counseling including information on the Rights of the Child.
If you choose to ignore them today for reasons which are right, you will be forced to pay attention to them tomorrow for the wrong reasons.
2 lakh Orphans, 40K Widows
Srinagar: About 200,000 orphans and 40,000 widows are in the Kashmir valley, where there are less than 50 private and government centres to help them.
Chairman of the Islamic Relief and Research Centre (IRRC) Abdul Rashid Hanjoora says there were about two lakh orphans and 40,000 widows in the valley.
"There were orphans and widows before 90s also but due to turmoil, the number has increased," he said, adding now the society and government have equal responsibility to look after them.
But, he said, unfortunately there were just about 18 government centres which are taking care of just 25 orphans and widows per centre.
"We need hundreds of such centres to accommodate maximum number of orphans and widows," he said adding the society too has the responsibility towards these people.
Hanjoora said there are also about 20 private centres who were working sincerely for these orphans and widows. Majority of these centres are registered and maintain all accounts and records, he said.
He said besides his IRRC, these centres are always open for any audit from the government or society.
"We always try to provide good environment to orphans so that their studies continue besides food, clothing and other things," he said.
Hanjoora said majority of the children in the centre were those who have nobody to look after the death of their parents.
"However, in some cases close relatives, including uncles, were taking care of orphans in their homes. But, he said, the number of such cases is very less so the responsibility is on the society and the government to seriously think about the orphans, who need our help," he said.