A book village cometh

by Mareaya Fayaz 

North Kashmir is all set to get its first, one-of- its-kind book village. Coming up in the village of Aragam in the Bandipora area, this initiative by Pune- based NGO Sarhad might just give a fresh new perspective to the youth of the Valley.

THE Pune-based NGO by the name of Sarhad has a beautiful goal. To make India’s largest book village out of the village of Aragam in the Bandipora area of North Kashmir. And in order to get to its aim, the NGO is seeking to work in cooperation with the Jammu and
Kashmir Government. It has presented a proposal that has already been discussed with the district administration.

Mr. Sanjay Nahar, founder of Sarhad NGO

Aragam and its new promise
On why they chose the Aragam hamlet, an NGO official explains: “This village is located beautifully where Nature can inspire a visitor’s mind and encourage the creative process. Tucked alongside Asia’s second- largest freshwater lake along the banks of the
Himalayan region's virgin forests, it is indeed a great place. There is no location in Kashmir that can compare to Aragam in terms of its potential to develop into a
community and a cultural village, where the region’s extraordinary beauty can motivate people to explore Kashmiri literature and its rich history in addition to
experiencing its magnificent culture”. He adds: “It will be a village with on-going exhibits of
old books, artwork and Kashmiri knicknacks. Writers, historians and environment lovers will visit this village for some quiet and there will be both new and old books available for reading and contemplation. Additionally, folk culture will be presented”. Sarhad is already
running two high-spirited projects in Kashmir – one, ‘Apple Tourism’ and two, ‘Border Tourism’ and both involve the youth from Kashmir.

Nurturing a connect, empowering people
The head of the NGO Sanjay Nahar says: “Our NGO is named Sarhad because we wanted to establish a connect between people living on the border and mainstream India. We realised that we have to establish a physical, emotional and cultural relationship with these people and it cannot be achieved through education alone. The idea was to get them involved and tourism is one of the important industries that bring people together and
border tourism is certainly one such way. We realised that Kashmir has a potential for border tourism. We had started border tourism in Punjab and it was a huge success; so we believe that it will be successful in Kashmir too. I believe that employment and dignity are
very important and border tourism can certainly help in the employment of the Kashmiri youth. We have identified four areas in Jammu and Kashmir for border tourism – Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora from Kashmir, and Samba from Jammu. It’s all still at a
primary stage”. Nahar also points out that since it’s a border area, there are certain technical issues and they are required to get permissions from the defence and local government bodies. “Also, people would need to offer homestays and they have to be verified. Meanwhile, we have already trained 200 students in Pune. Additionally, we
are also running a school in Dardpora, offering education to children and giving them a chance to brighten their future. We have also built huts in the area,” Nahar adds
While talking about the initiative of apple tourism, he says “we are planning to invoke people’s interest so that they might visit orchards. That will not only promote the apple industry but will also promote tourism. Since the apple is called the pride of Kashmir, we are also planning an apple conference in Srinagar to promote the apple industry in Kashmir”. As for the book village, Nahar says they had given this proposal eight years back and they had initially located two other places but that didn’t work out. “Fortunately
we have students from Kashmir studying in Pune. Some of them are from the Bandipora area and they suggested Aragam village. One of our students, Siraj Khan, who is
from Aragam village, is coordinating with Anuj Nahar on the book village project,” he informs.

Siraj Khan, coordinator of book village

Interesting infrastructure

Talking to KC, Siraj Khan says: “This is going to be the biggest book village in India. It is a joint collaboration of the district administration and Sarhad. Since the district administration is already promoting Wular as a tourist attraction, we settled in on Aragam. As of now, the NGO has built a library in ten houses. The walls of the libraries have been painted along educational themes so that children feel attracted and driven towards education. We are planning to raise the structure for the library which will archive the ancient manuscripts of Kashmir, books on the history of Kashmir and more. We have received a good response from the people in and around the village asking us for books. We are planning to put books on record so that we can issue them to people. Since it’s a public asset, people can take the books for reading, can keep them for a month or two but with the prerequisite of renewing the permission every week. The ancient manuscripts will be kept on display in a hall so that people can sit there and read them. We are also planning to create a room where we will place books for competitive exams to help students prepare”. Khan adds that they are not accepting any monetary help from people or the government. “The NGO is doing it all. But we are accepting donated books. We campaigned at the World Book Fair, Delhi by way of a stall there and we collected around 100 to 200 books. Also, we are open to ideas from people to improve the concept of the book village. We are planning to inaugurate the village after Eid and are expecting people to visit in large numbers. People are already calling and asking about it”.


Turning a new leaf
Among the books, they have history books, novels, political, fictional and non-fictional books covering almost every genre. They also have encyclopaedias, books on Urdu poetry. Khan informs: “We are planning to make it theme based – which means, in one house we will have only history books and it will be designed as per that. Another will hold geography books and the ambience will be in accordance to that. We will categorise the entire village like that, to make it more attractive and interesting. We are very thankful to the National Book Trust of India for donating books”.

A new direction

Talking about the drug menace among the youth, Khan says, “We are doing whatever we can to stop it. We have asked for permission from hospitals to paint their outer walls on the subject of harmful impact of drug abuse. I think our initiative to get more and more local
people involved in education and books might help with this menace also”.
On asked if increasing tourism to an unexplored area with a fragile ecosystem might be harmful for the environment and as to what initiatives the NGO is going to take to prevent it, Khan enthusiastically informs that they have decided on making the village a polythene-free zone and that the NGO will make sure that there is no harm to the environment. He further informs: “We faced so many problems in getting the MOU signed. It took me nearly six months to get the local administration on board. Not just this, getting people involved was also difficult because they didn’t understand why building a library was important since they do not understand what books might do to change lives. Also, some people were sceptical about what kind of literature we were going to put in the library, like books on nationalism. But we overcame all these obstacles and continued with our efforts”. Besides this, the NGO is planning to open a school for disabled children in Bandipora for which they have already collaborated with the district administration. Also, there is a plan of building an astronomical station for which they are having discussions with IIT Kanpur.


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