A conversation with Adhik Kadam, Co-founder Borderless Foundation.
How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?
I was born and brought up in Poona, after 12th standard, when I was in my first year of graduation, I went on a study tour to Kashmir. I was student of political science and went there to study article 370, the Kashmir pandit crisis, and why they were pushed out of J&K. This was in 1997 and was a 15-20 day program. The 20-day program turned into a three-and-a-half-month program with little resources and money. Post this journey to Kashmir between 1997 to 2001, I used to spend 10 months in Kashmir and attended college just for exams. I used to spend 90% of the time in Kashmir. My head of department told me several times “Whatever you are doing no other student can do it”. What got me thinking was the killing and the unnecessary violence around me. When a kid dies near me in firing or a blast, is there nothing we can learn from this? Many questions used to bother me all the time – why did the kids have to die in front of me? How can I help in this situation? Am I going to leave this place or do something here? So I decided so many people are dying in front of me and around me here in Kashmir that it is better to work here than work somewhere where you are not needed.
So in 1997 to 1998 till the Kargil war in 1999, I got to understand my calling. I worked in Kargil for over 6-8 months and then in Dras and Batalik. During this period, I worked for migrants, researched widows in the conflict and the concept of half widows whose husbands were missing but not presumed dead. They don’t get any benefits from govt since they were not widows. This is a huge problem in Kashmir.
There are so many conferences happening about Kashmir but ultimately they are all just discussions. But I felt action spoke louder than words. We also felt the responsibility of giving back to the community since we lived with them for over 5 years.
I tied up with an agency called Unique, and we researched about how children are affected in armed conflict on 2001.Through this research, we found that there were over 30,000-35,000 orphans and the system isn’t equipped to work with these children. We also realized, that a home for boys were plenty, but there were no homes available to house the orphan girls. It was also a time when human trafficking was high in Kashmir. In 2002, we started a home for girls. We started with 4 girls in 2002. Today, we have over 220 girls across our homes. Our homes are spread across Kashmir (2) and Jammu (3). Each home on an average houses 50-55 girls.
“when I was in my first year of graduation, I went on a study tour to Kashmir. I was student of political science and went there to study article 370, the Kashmir pandit crisis”
“Many questions used to bother me all the time – why did the kids have to die in front of me? How can I help in this situation? Am I going to leave this place or do something here?”
“the local people all assembled at the Masjid (Mosque) announced and issued a Fatwa against us saying I was a Hindu and to socially boycott me”
“we used to meet the girls’ brothers at their houses in the village and when we returned back to the village, we used to find out that the brothers were killed and were not alive.”
“He went for the training, because his father had recently died of cancer and his mother and 3 sisters needed money. Someone told Nasir, that they would give him 25,000 if he trained”
“They used a 15 year old 10th standard boy to kill her father. The boy used to work in their house for six months, he developed a bond with them. Then on Eid, he hid a gun in his tiffin box and killed her father. The father died in the girls lap.”
“I have been kidnapped 19 times—and released 19 times —by militants, army, or security personnel on both sides of the conflict. I have been beaten several times.”
Please tell us about the successes on this journey?
Along with the locals, we started a foundation called Borderless Foundation and registered this in Poona and requested my friends to become trustees. Our first donor was in Lonavla near Bombay, Kurshit Kuppar. She donated INR 2.5 lakhs. With that money we started the first home.
We started our first home on May 12th 2002, which was a Sunday and the preceding Friday the local people all assembled at the Masjid (Mosque) announced and issued a Fatwa against us saying I was a Hindu and to socially boycott me. Some community people started troubling us when we started this home, but 95% of the community supported us and we went on about it. Yes we did have problems and death threats, and socially were boycotted. But the people of the village, knew us as we stayed with them for long and knew we were there to do something well for them. I used to stay with a local person, so the locals knew of me and of my character. The time I spent with them ensured they knew I was not there to cause any trouble, even though I was a Hindu working for Muslim children. The first home was started with Bharati, whom I call my elder sister, Kamini, Aslam and self.
How we grew the house from 4 to the next 15 was extremely interesting. We undertook a survey for UNICEF where we went door to door and got to know the number of kids in each house. This gave us the entire history of the child and how their father’s died. Initially as part of the survey process, we used to meet the girls’ brothers at their houses in the village and when we returned back to the village, we used to find out that the brothers were killed and were not alive. Infact one such incident, that will remain imprinted in my mind, was we met a boy in the village and had spoken to him. A few days later, when I went back to the village I could not find him. I got to understand he had gone for his training across the border. We were back at the village, and heard there was a firing in the outskirts of the village. We once found out about the body of a boy who was killed in firing. We picked up the body of teenage boy and got it back to the village.
We later found out that Nasir the boy had crossed over the border to get trained as a militant and died the day he came back from training in Pakistan. He went for the training, because his father had recently died of cancer and his mother and 3 sisters needed money. Someone told Nasir, that they would give him 25,000 if he trained, so he went to get trained and was killed.
Every district has the same problem. To enhance our reach, we decided to have a home in a different district. Every district has about 8 lakh people and we decided to start the homes in places, where it was most required. We zeroed in interior areas and not Srinagar because everyone focused only on Srinagar. In the next 4 years we plan to expand and adopt up to 1000 girls in the various districts.
I have been kidnapped 19 times—and released 19 times —by militants, army, or security personnel on both sides of the conflict. I have been beaten several times. Under the ruse of inviting me to a friendly tea, purported friends, well-wishers and villagers have led me to a house where my kidnappers have awaited.
When I give presentations in Poona I get criticized saying I take care of kids of terrorists, but kids are kids. We have kids in our home whose parents were cops and have been killed by terrorists and kids whose terrorist fathers have been killed by cops. The girls know this and can live with each other harmoniously. Some of our girls are pursuing their higher education in Poona, Nashik, Kolhapur and Chennai. There’s a girl in from our home who’s studying in Chennai whose parents died in cross firing. She didn’t have money for even tea and clothes but she’s now studying in Chennai, so her life has been extremely successful.
Another story that comes to my mind is, one of our girls in her 20s who got married into a neighboring village. We got her married because she was not faring well in her studies, and wanted her to settle down in a good family. She was trained to work in the kitchen at our home which had about 50-60 girls and also in tailoring. She used to cook for 50-60 girls every day. So when she got married she could easily manage a household of 5. Everyone had a good opinion about her at home and the village. Looking at how responsible she was, the village decided to make her part of the village committee. She called me up one day and told me she needed help in setting up a computer lab in her village. She wanted to use the small authority to good use. When I see her, I think she makes a great role model. Why? Her two uncles were militants and were killed by security forces. On suspicion that her father was also a militant the police picked him up and tortured him, and he died as a result of the torture. In this situation her mother lost her mind, nobody knows where she is till date. This girl was from such a family. This girl had every reason to turn rogue. But here she is an extremely responsible Indian citizen looking to do something good.
I would like to take another example. One of the girls in our home has completed her graduation in Law. She studied law in Bharitiya Vidyapeeth. Her father and 7 uncles were militants, they went across the border to get trained and started fighting against our security forces. After a year they surrendered to our authorities. After they surrendered they started working with the Indian Army helping the army since they had training and knew the details of militants. The militants killed the girl’s father after a lot of planning. They used a 15 year old 10th standard boy to kill her father. The boy used to work in their house for six months, he developed a bond with them. Then on Eid, he hid a gun in his tiffin box and killed her father. The father died in the girls lap. These are the adverse conditions that the girls come from. After this, anything they achieve makes them super stars.
What are your future plans?
I am not interested in politics. I am only interested in ensuring there is no unnecessary death of a child. The children there don’t know what life is, all they know is bombings, bullets, protests, bandhs, and hartals. There are no children magazines in Kashmir. Every medium is extremely politicized. In this kind of environment, the child is always in fear. How will she know about life and create a positive impact on society?
We are aiming at least having 1000 girls housed in our homes in the coming years. Kashmir itself is a large area, but when we expand we are looking at creating homes in Assam and Nagaland.
We are also looking for funding for the next set of homes that we are setting up, to house over 150 girls. We are looking for people who can help us in this endeavor.
The other initiative, we are looking at is having a program similar to student exchange programs. Here our students will come and stay over at the sponsor’s house for a period of 2 months – their winter vacation. This helps the child immensely, as they have zero exposure. They have never experienced how a normal family or home is, this program helps them put things in perspective. They even don’t have TV’s and might see a TV for the first time at the sponsor’s home. This program has been running successfully for the last 9 years. Every year we bring about 30-40 kids to places like Bangalore and other metros and experience the peace, calm and stability of a normal home. We also look for homes, where they have children of similar age, so that the child has company. We would like more families to come forward and volunteer to be sponsor homes.
We are looking at creating a business center for women run by women. For this we have trained, 2 girls for homeopathy training in Nashik, another girl in pharmacy, so that she can open a medical store (Only 4% of the women there use sanitary napkins because when a lady goes to the shop a man is sitting there and she is shy to buy it from a man). Infact, 8 of our girls have started a women’s business house in Kupwara district of Kashmir. They make computerized embroidery, sanitary napkins stitching, DTP printing and stationary stores. Through a donation drive we have 10 odd computers also available. These will be used to start an internet café. We also plan to set-up a small theatre where we can show these girls documentaries as there are no theaters in J&K. So our plan is to ensure the ladies start and operate the centers. Also restrict the entry only to ladies in the centers. Since it is a Muslim community, ladies will be allowed to go if and only if it’s an all ladies establishment. This will also become a space for the women to congregate, talk, bond and exchange ideas amongst themselves.
My only interest is to ensure these girls stand on their own feet. If she can convince one person – her child or spouse to not pick up the rifle, then she will save the life of the person and the life of a soldier. So practically she’s in fact saving 2 lives.
“We are aiming at least having 1000 girls housed in our homes in the coming years. Kashmir itself is a large area, but when we expand we are looking at creating homes in Assam and Nagaland.”
“My only interest is to ensure these girls stand on their own feet. If she can convince one person – her child or spouse to not pick up the rifle, then she will save the life of the person and the life of a soldier. So practically she’s in fact saving 2 lives.”
We need lots of prayers. So please pray for us! Taking care of children is no mean task. We need financial support, volunteers, mentors, education counseling for higher education among some of things that I can list from the top of my mind. We also need more sponsor homes, to take our children in and have them stay with them. We also need more people to spread the word. If anyone wants to get in touch with me, please mail me at – email@example.com or through the contact us section on Your Philanthropy Story.