An aerial view of Kashmir Valley
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Where eagles dare ​to bring peace to ​Kashmir

story by: dave king

Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for over six ​decades, but Rotarians from across the world are trying to being some ​peace and stability to the troubled region.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is one of the most visually-stunning places on ​earth – but also among the most dangerous.

Predominantly mountainous, with snow-covered peaks soaring into the clouds, ​Kashmir’s resplendent geography features deep, narrow valleys and high, barren ​plateaus with thickly forested foothills.

And yet, even since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, this north-​west region has been the focus of perpetual conflict and a flashpoint between ​India and Pakistan.

The northern and western portions of Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan are ​administered by Pakistan, while the southern and south-eastern areas of Jammu, ​Kashmir are administered by India.

The Indian- and Pakistan-administered portions are divided by a “line of control” ​agreed in 1972, although neither country recognises it as an international ​country.

“basic support of good health care, ​education and income generation are some ​of the critical success factors that ​could bring us to close to peace.”

Adding further fuel to the fire in this disputed region, neighbouring China has ​controlled the north-eastern part of Ladakh since 1962.

The nuclear-armed neighbours of India and Pakistan have fought two wars over ​the Muslim-majority territory which remains one of the most militarised zones in ​the world.

Now Rotarians are attempting to build bridges in this sensitive area with the ​formation a couple of years ago of the Kashmir/Ladakh Steering Committee ​featuring Rotary clubs from Great Britain & Ireland, the USA, Canada, Africa, and ​several Rotary district in India, chaired by the Rotary Club of Calcutta.

In May 2022, a group of 25 experienced Rotarians got together to draw up a ​community development needs assessment with the ambitious title – “where ​eagles dare”. On that team were David Johnson from the Rotary Club of London, ​and Gill de Warren from the Rotary Club of Battersea Park, who has become ​secretary of the steering committee alongside chairman Sauman Ray from the ​Calcutta club.

“One definition of peace is that it is meant for within a community, across various ​borders, and between different countries and most importantly within oneself,” ​explained Sauman Ray, who attended the Presidential Peace Conference in ​London in February.

“But it needs various catalysts and Rotary is one.

“When a community feels contented with their way of life and infrastructural ​facilities are available, the peace is not far. It’s an ongoing process rather than a ​one-off achievement.”

Sauman Ray and David Johnson shaking hands with the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh

Sauman Ray (middle) and David Johnson (left), Past President of the Rotary Club of London, meeting ​Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh

Two years ago, those 25 experienced Rotarians from across the globe met with ​key Government officials in Kashmir and Ladakh to plan a vision, notably having ​talks with Manoj Sinha, the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu & Kashmir.

Gill de Warren, who is Foundation Chair at the Rotary Club of Battersea Park in ​London said that they identified a need for Rotary projects serving all seven ​areas of focus, with priorities in health, education, water and sanitation, plus the ​environment.

She said: “We visited Srinagar and Ladakh and found opportunities to improve ​the living conditions of the communities, and children in particular, especially ​those living in remote mountain villages inaccessible to schools and medical ​care.”

One immediate requirement was the need to establish a solar-powered water ​pumping facility on the Indus River in Leh to boost agriculture and boost income ​generation for farmers. “The idea was to make an oasis in the mountain desert,” ​added Ray. One of the prime movers behind the project is the Rotary Club of ​London.

One of the biggest achievements in Kashmir of the new global Rotary partnership ​was setting up last October of health camps in Srinagar and Ladakh for surgeries ​and eye check-ups.

Rotarian doctors from across India conducted more than 500 surgeries during a ​10-day mega surgical camp, including general surgery, laparoscopic surgery, joint ​replacement, laser surgery for piles and varicose veins, along with cataract ​surgery.

a group of people posing for a photo in front of a banner advertising free eye check-ups

The Rotary Club of Ladakh with medics at one of the free eye check-ups set up by the new global ​Rotary ​partnership

Separately, the Rotarians organised the training of 100 schoolteachers from ​primary schools.

David Johnson, a Past President of the Rotary Club of London, said: “This is a ​fantastic beginning, and we wish to support the schools with books, and ​materials in Ladakh supporting education and literacy.”

Sentiments echoed by Tony Sharma, a Past District Governor of Rotary in ​London. “This is fabulous work. Recognition from local communities and ​Government bodies is essential to ensure on going sustainability and improve ​the living conditions of the communities.”

Further surgical camps took place in February in Rajouri and the Poonch areas of ​Jammu and Kashmir where there has been recent instances of conflict and ​killing.

Alongside this effort, new Rotary clubs are being established in Jammu Kashmir. ​“These mega medical mission camps are helping us to motivate and impress ​upon people of Kashmir to bring an everlasting peace. This is helping us to build ​peace in Jammu Kashmir,” added Calcutta Rotarian, Sauman Ray.

“When a community feels contented with ​their way of life and infrastructural ​facilities are available, the peace is not ​far.”

This May, a second needs assessment will take place in Kashmir to assess ​progress, and in September the Rotary Club of Calcutta will be hosting an ​international peace conference to coincide with its 105th birthday – the oldest ​Rotary club in mainland Asia.

Rotary, with its international profile and proven-track record with humanitarian ​projects is becoming a trusted force for good in Kashmir.

Sauman Ray added: “Our observations from many Rotary peace projects, ​customised to the local environment in Jammu and Kashmir, makes us believe ​that peace comes when people are happy in their country and homes, in a safe ​environment, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and with the freedom and ​resources to educate their children without fear of invasion.

“However, ground realities may not allow that to happen easily, as we see it in ​many countries in the world today.The committee concludes that basic support ​of good health care, education and income generation are some of the ​critical success factors that could bring us to close to peace. This is Rotary with its ​expertise and proven experience of getting things done.” 

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