The youth of Jammu and Kashmir have actively participated in the educational and national integration tours sponsored by the Indian army.
Over 7,800 youths have gone to different places under ‘Operation Sadbhavana’ – a social responsibility initiative by the army – in the past three years.
According to a defence spokesman, in the past three years the army has conducted a total of 264 educational and national integration tours and in each tour, a group usually comprises approximately 30 members.
The spokesman said the army’s Northern Command has been organising these trips for students and youths from Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country from time to time.
The purpose of these trips is providing an exposure to these young people by showing them different parts of the country and make them aware about the new educational opportunities, other cultures and religious sites that demonstrate the secular character of the country .
During the tour, they also visit India’s constitutional institutions and heritage sites.
The army said that the ‘Operation Sadbhavana’ is not only a tactical tool but it was a resolve to come closer to the populace and develop of mutual faith and trust.
“The armed forces are partners in development of the country and the state,” the defence spokesman said.
However, this month, thirty Kashmiri girls students from three prime Srinagar colleges faced a lot of criticism and online abuse for going on an army sponsored tour.
On social media, things went to the extent of calling for their social boycott and asking boys not to marry these girls.
Despite the criticism, the girls have remained firm and strong to face the wrath of people.
The army said 80 girls had signed in for the tour, but they could accommodate only 30.
The girls were taken to Delhi, Agra and other places. During their tour, the students met President Pranab Mukherjee, HRD minister Smriti Irani and visited the Parliament.
This is not the first incident in Kashmir where girls have faced such abuse. In the past, a ban was slapped on rock band ‘Praagaash’ after Grand Mufti had termed the band un-islamic .
Despite being trolled for weeks on social networking sites, the girl students who went on an army’s empowerment tour, have stayed defiant. For now, they have brushed aside the criticism.
In fact, they said that have learned a lot from the tour.
One of the girl students said, “I feel like we’ve been picked out of reality and placed in a dream.”
Meenu Shalla, 17-year old girl who also went for the tour said that she don’t care and they have not done anything wrong.
“We went happily and have returned happier,” she said.
Shalla, a Class XI student said that those people who criticized them are narrow-minded.
Manzoor Ahmad Shalla, father of Shalla said that everybody is entitled to their viewpoint.
“My vision goes beyond the mountains. Their (critics) vision is stopped by the mountains,” he said.
Some of the protesters have posted the girls’ pictures with President Pranab Mukherjee and HRD Minister Smriti Irani alongside pictures of handcuffed minors and funerals of militants.
Syeda Aasiya Andrabi said she had opposed the tour as it was against Islam.
She said that she had appealed to parents not to send their girls on the tours arranged by the occupational Army.
“Many parents took my message seriously and some didn’t take it seriously,” she said.
Andarbi objected to the use of abusive language against the girls on the social media. “We have to educate them… People shouldn’t indulge in use of abusive language against these innocent girls.”