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  • “Innocent Kashmiris believe in what they hear, even the educated ones”.
  • “I was in Kashmir in February was saddened to see it dry and a bit life less. The faces of village people looked sad. It wrung a chord in my heart”.

Photo credit Shivam Saxena JAMMU: The European looks, hazel green eyes, sun kissed bronzed complexion, blessed by an Italian gene in her lineage, shaken and stirred with svelte figure, complimented with a dash of bountiful intellect, smoothed out with a sensuous and delicious crunchy voice, crooning out verses, is all you will find in Vandana Vadehra.

By profession, a playback singer, performer, award winning MC from JAI, Lyricist, composer and actress while talking to Ajmer Alam Wani, Editor-in-Chief of JK Monitor , said that the biggest obstacle to peace in Kashmir is its own people and the warped up wrong politicians. According to Vandana, innocent Kashmiris believe in what they hear, even the educated ones.

She suggested that if you learn to use your own discretions and not be swayed by instigation from outsiders, then make your own judgments.  She advised that they should fathom the fact that all answers lie within themselves, in their hearts if they just seek it with all honesty, then peace is not that hard to restore.

Replying to a question about her willingness to contribute to Kashmir society, she said, “I am a singer anchor actress, I also teach modulation phonetic diction communication skills, fashion, grooming, and etiquettes. One way would be taking such classes in schools and colleges and boot camps for women too. Second would be performing for the concerts and college festivals there held for a cause”.

When asked how she sees Kashmir, Vandana replied, “Well, not how I see but how I want to see Kashmir, well I want to comprehend Kashmir as an Unscathed Virgin with its splendor, as it was in the olden days gone by, as I had heard my grandparents, who hail from Peshawar, relate the tales of bountiful resources, hypnotic hills, verdant vales, lush greenery and vagrant flowers, innocent people with a beauty known world over.”

In response to another question, she suggested that Bollywood should promote oneness in their Plots based on Kashmir, just the way Bajrangi Bhaijaan did. That is the only way for people there and world over, to realize that we are one, Kashmiris are Indians, and Kashmir is NOT just an Islamic state, (“as most Kashmiris believe which I realized after being in conversation with several locals there”) it’s a part of what the world, especially Uzbekistan Afghanistan etc STILL refers to as ‘HINDUSTAN’! That is the name we were known by, for centuries.

On Kashmir tourism promotion across the globe, she said, “One way I feel is through Bollywood movies, documentaries, international film festivals and a strong marketing strategy by the Government of India at the Centre.

On shortcomings, she belive that shortcomings are there but none that cannot be overcome and suggested that attractive holiday packages with assurance of safety of tourists would help a great deal.

When asked about methodology that can divert Kashmiri youngsters towards entertainment world, she replied, “Its upon our directors and producers in Bollywood to give more and more opportunities to youngsters in Kashmir in all fields, be it music, direction, acting production, photography, cinematography etc. as it is the Kashmiri youth are very good looking and have the best of genes.

Summing-up about her recent visit of Kashmir, she recalled, “I was in Kashmir in February, was saddened to see it dry and a bit life less. The faces of village people looked sad. It wrung a chord in my heart”.

Relevant to mention here that with B.Sc Hons in Botany, LLB,[Law] , Diploma Fashion Designing  NIFT,  the name Vandana Vadehra is synonymous with sensual husky baritone vocals, ranging from a mellow soft key to a high pitched falsetto, traversing a plethora of musical range, emotions, modulations’ and situations, packaged in this exclusive singer’s and MC’s voice! A live-wire stage performer par excellence, she can belt out melodies in English, Hindi and Punjabi, the languages, on which she has impeccable command and occasionally chooses to have a fling with Telgu, Bangla, Marathi and Spanish too!

The wit in her anchoring shows, sense of humour, intellectual acuity makes her a favourite with all clients. Her impeccable baritone, vocals switching into a pleasant
falsetto enthral the audience in her singing events.  Be it English rock Pop, Ballads, Hindi Bollywood, with a band or on tracks, she enchants the crowd with her interactive performance even in the most sombre of shows.

The events she conducts as an anchor, for classy and panache crowd, leaves the audience mesmerised by her impeccable command on the English language, while her intonations, wit, subtle humour, pensive punches draw a splatter of understated mirth! She slips into the guise of a Hindi language host with equal ease and can hold fort with her clean diction, beautiful aura, and glamorous persona sprinkled with a dash of singing abilities need to make a perfect on stage recipe!

She has conducted 2500 plus Stage shows in 5 Continents, 18 Countries, 300 plus Cities for over 2000 plus happy clients and got 5 awards besides getting impressive over 3000 press coverages.

Being the great granddaughter of Dhyan Chand Malhotra, 1st cousin of the legend Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Art and Music flow abundantly in her blood. Her mother late Mrs Meera Vadehra being her teacher of English literature language, Phonetics, art and theatre, contributed to the artist in her and her father rendered the baritone voice. She has Anchored shows/Sung and shared stage with Hollywood stars like John Travolta, Jennifer Lopez, Foo Fighters, SMOKIE etc.

International Feathers in Her CAP:Photo credit Shivam Saxena

INDO-ATLANTA MUSIC FESTIVAL, IN GEORGIA ATLANTA, WITH INTERNATIONAL STARS LIKE, JENNIFER LOPEZ, JESSICA SIMPSON, FOO FIGHTERS AND THE LIKE in JULY 2004

-NEWYORK FASHION WEEK OPENING ACT-JUNE 2004

-MTV GRIND IN KATHMANDU AT HYATT…MAY 2004

-MUSCAT PERFORMING WITH SUKHBIR FOR THE SULTAN OF OMAN DEC 2005

-INDO US FESTIVAL COVERING CITIES LIKE CHICAGO, SAN DIEGO, PHILADELPHIA ETC

SHE CAME BACK FROM A ROCKING TOUR OF UK,IN APRIL 2006, AFTER ENTHRALLING AUDIENCES, WHERE SHE WAS THE ONLY PERFORMER TO BE FLOWN IN FROM INDIA TO PERFORM AT THE EASTERN EYE ASIAN BUSINESS AWARDS 2006, HONOURING THE LIKES OF LAXMI MITTAL CHAIRED BY PRINCE CHARLES AND CHERIE BLAIR-COVERED BY BBC, CNN, CNBC ETC.

-COVERED CITIES LIKE LONDON AMSTERDAM, FOR PRIVATE WEDDING DO’S IN AUGUST2006

-PERFORMED IN GREECE, ATHENS, AT THE ATHENS INTERNATIONAL CULTURAL FESTIVAL’2006!

-SHOWS IN MALAYSIA FOR HAVELL’S IN NOV 2006!

-NOV 3RD 2007 PERFORMED AT THE SINDHI COMMUNITY DIWALI BALL, AT MAYFAIR HOTEL, UK, MIDDLESEX, LONDON!

-4TH DECEMBER 2007, SHE WINS THE HEARTS OF THOUSANDS IN MUSCAT WITH HER CHARISMA PANACHE ELEGANCE N STYLE!

-14th FEBRUARY PERFORMED AND ANCHORED MUSCAT

SHOPPING FESTIVAL GRAND FINALE AT THE AMPHITHEATRE WITH BOLLYWOOD STARS LIKE ANNU MALIK, KIM SHARMA ETC.!

-HAMBURG-26TH 27TH APRIL 2008, 2009,  2011, SINGING AT THE DAMATOR AUDI FOR THE GERMAN PUBLIC AND THE AFGHAN HINDUS SETTLED THERE AT THE UNIVERSITY CAMPUS

-BERLIN 8TH AND AMSTERDAM 20TH MAY 2013, GERMAN INDO FESTIVAL

-BANGKOK FOR VIDEOCON R AND R AWARDS APRIL 2015, AND FOR ASIAN PAINTS IN 2010

-TASHKENT, SAMARKHAND AND ALMATI AND BALI FOR ASIAN PAINTS IN 2012, 2013.

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Known for spirituality, a towering figure rated high at the realm of spiritual education, Alhaj Ghulam Qadir Ganipuri was born in an improvised terrain of Bhalessa (Doda) in Jammu and Kashmir.  He was also referred to as a Peer-I-Tareeqat. His disciples regard him as “Murshid”.  He had taught in several Governmental schools as Teacher in Bhalessa (Doda).

Alhaj was known for his honesty as he apt to donate all his holiday/ Sundays salary for charity.  Later he started his spritual life, He spread the Madersa Education in the entire Chenab valley in by establishing a first of its kind innovative Madersa – JamiaGunyatulUloom at Bhatyas (a hamlet near Doda) in 1983. Alhaj named this Jamia after the Jenab Abdul GaniSadiqui.  Haji sahib has set up a Trust- GunyatulUloom Charitable Trust under the aegis of which Madersa function. The Madrsa has been setup at the pattern of Darul UloomDeoband, Utter Pradesh.

At Jamia, handreds of Islamic clerics, Ulema and Hafiz at produced at specialisation level. Alhaj Ganipuri was known for spirituality, there are thousands of his disciples who got shock from his death. Bhalessa, carpeted with evergreen forests and dotted with tiny hamlets, is home to roughly equal numbers of Hindus and Muslims, Owing to movements of several so called leaders of communities for their divisive policies, strong ties bind other Hindus and Muslims and have halted the complete polarization of the populace. This is something that I've been attempting to study since long.

Youginder Sikand- a researcher par excellence working in Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi conducted an extensive tour of the area to study Hindu Muslim relations in Bhalessa. He wrote on Hundu-Muslim relations of Bhalessa. He met Alhaj Ghulam Qadir Ganipuri sahib. Yogi pointed that the people of the area owe peace and end the nefarious designs.

One his visit to this improvised area He wrote, the story goes like this…..! “For the last five years, things began limping back to a semblance of 'normality' in the Doda including Bhalessa. The number of killings registered a rapid decline. Long spells of curfew were done away with. As were the army checkpoints that had come up at every kilometer or so on the road connecting Bhalessa with Doda and Jammu.

My friends in Doda, Hindus and Muslims, were ecstatic about the prospects of peace. But now, with the ongoing agitation in Jammu and in Kashmir over the Amarnath yatra, that might be a mere chimera if things are allowed to spin out of control, as they indeed seem to be”. Yogi- A good friend of mine shared with me during my interaction with him as like this:-“It was a little after noon that we arrived in Bhatyas, a settlement consisting of a row of houses and shops along the main road, some seven kilometers from main town.
 

Exhausted and ravenous, we entered a tea-shop, whose amiable owner rustled up for us a sumptuous meal of rajma-chawal, standard fare in these parts.” “We shared the single table with a friendly young Muslim man, a peasant from a village nearby. 'Times are bad', he said gravely. 'Just the other day, a young man was killed in a village in this area'. He went on to speak about how a group of militants had stopped the vehicle of a local BJP activist, demanded that the Special Police Officer accompanying the man hand them his weapon, and then fled into the forest on the other side of the river.

In retaliation, he said, a Hindu member of the local Village Defence Committee (VDC) had shot dead a Muslim lad in the village, the only son of his parents. The boy, he stressed, had nothing to do with militancy. The enraged Muslims of the village demanded that the VDC member be arrested and his weapon, provided to him by the state, be seized.

Consequently, he went on, several Hindu families had left the village and were camping in Gandoh in order to prevent this from happening. 'The situation in the village is still very tense', the man said, when we asked him if we could go there to see things for ourselves. The man shortly left us, and a short while later we were joined at the table by an elderly Hindu, a shopkeeper. His version of the recent events was quite different. According to him, the boy had been killed in cross-firing between militants and the VDC team and had not been deliberately killed by the latter.

Fearing retaliation by militants, he said, several Hindu families had fled the village and had taken refuge in Gandoh. Although we could not verify whose claim was correct, the two very different accounts of the same event brought home to us the sharp communal divide in Gandoh, a result of the many years of unrelenting conflict and violence the area has witnessed. At the same time, what was equally striking was how, despite the walls of suspicion that have come up between local Hindus and Muslims, the two communities continue to live together in the same towns and villages in relative peace, barring occasional incidents.

While sporadic killings of civilians lead to further polarisation and mistrust, there are other forces that are at work that help maintain centuries'-old bonds between Hindus and Muslims in this area. And one of these was a Sufi we had come all the way from Doda town to meet, Haji Sahib of Akhiyarpur.  A two-hour walk up a steep slope brought us to Akhiyarpur, to Haji Saheb's modestly furnished meeting chamber. We were accompanied half the way by two local Muslim youth, who, while they
said they were the best of friends, were politically completely at odds. The older one was bitter about the militants, and insisted that most locals, Muslims, and, of course, Hindus, felt the same way. His cousin, he told us, had been kidnapped and killed by a group of militants because he had refused to pay them a certain sum that they had demanded or else provide them with one of his own sons as a recruit.

 'Earlier, many militants were in the movement for purely ideological reasons and that is why they enjoyed considerable support', he stressed. 'But now', he said, 'unemployed and illiterate youth have joined the movement. Wielding a gun gives them a sense of power, which some of them doesn’t hesitate to misuse to settle their own personal scores'. The man's friend shrugged off his comments.

'Don't listen to him', he insisted. He made no effort to conceal his support for the militants and their cause. 'Muslims continue to be persecuted in India. See what happened in Gujarat', he said. 'So, how can we ever willingly agree to live in a country where Muslims have no place?', he wanted to know.

The men left us roughly half way up the mountain. For the rest of the strenuous walk ahead I juggled in my mind what they both had said, trying to imagine how I would have looked at the world if I were in their place. The thought was hardly comforting, for, clearly, like almost everyone else in the area, they had seen or else heard of death and destruction in their neighborhood on an almost daily basis.

When we finally arrived at Akhiyarpur and entered Haji Sahib's room, he was sitting in a corner on a mattress with a crowd of supplicants in rows in front of him. Most of them were Muslims, but some, I later discovered, were Hindus, too. A few of them had come from so far as Poonch and Kathua in the hope of a miraculous cure to their woes.

One by one they narrated their troubles to Haji Sahib in hushed tones. He listened to each of them patiently, advising them on what to do. After the last of his other visitors had left, Haji Saheb turned towards us. His eyes were soft, yet sad, gentle and the same time firm and determined. He looked considerably younger than the roughly seventy that we were told he was. Haji Sahib, we had been told, was a Sufi who was held in considerable respect and reverence by many local Muslims as well as Hindus. He went on, on our asking him, to tell us about himself.
 

He had, he told us, taught for over four decades in various government schools in Gandoh tehsil and was now running the one of the area's few private schools. In this relatively inaccessible and impoverished part of Doda, this was no mean achievement. The school is till the tenth grade and is affiliated to the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education. Most of the roughly 1000 students come from poor families, and the fees are relatively low. Numerous very poor children receive education free of cost. The school has a number of Hindu students, and almost a tenth of its teachers are Hindus, the rest being Muslims.

In addition to the school, Haji Sahib has set up a madrasa, the Jamia Ganiatul Ulum, which has some fifty students training to become ulama or Islamic clerics. Most of these children are from impoverished families, and in the madrasa they receive free education, boarding and lodging as well as the possibility of a job as a religious specialist once they graduate. Jamia Gunyat ul Uloom Bhatyas established in the year 1983 and was named after Hazrat Abdul Gani Sadiqui. This Madersa was setup by Peer-i-Tareeqat Alhaj Ghulam Qadir Ganipuri sahib.

The madrasah is managed by Gunyat Ul Uloom Trust Bhalessa is the largest Institution imparting Madrasah and academic education to the students of hilly terrain of Bhalessa.It currently has more than a thousand students on its rolls. Patterned on the Dar ul Uloom Deoband model, it is one of the few madrasah’s in the state of Jammu and Kashmir that provide Islamic education till the Alim Fazil or specialization level.

Our conversation turned to the ongoing conflict in the region. Hindus and Muslims, Haji Sahib assured us, had traditionally lived harmoniously in the area, even in the tumultuous days of the Partition. Killing an innocent person, he referred to the Qur'an as saying, is tantamount to slaying the whole of humankind. That principle applied in every case, he stressed, when I asked him about the atrocities committed both by militants as well as Indian soldiers, which were not few in number. 'May God grant the world His blessings', he cryptically replied in response to my query about the possibility of a realistic resolution to the Kashmir conflict.

The Haji Saheb insisted we spend the night in the village. In any case, we had missed the last vehicle to Doda and it was simply too dangerous to trek back to the main road after sunset. And so we were directed to the house of a friend of the Haji Sahib, a steep ascent ahead.  An hour later we found ourselves snuggled under layers of thick cotton quilts, tucking into a sumptuous meal in the house of the principal of Haji Sahib's school.

The principal and his son were impeccable hosts, and despite the fact that we were complete strangers and uninvited guests we were treated like some long-lost friends. We talked late into the night, mostly on the ongoing conflict and the impact this had had on Hindu-Muslim relations. Before we finally retired for the night, the principal read out to us a letter written by him and recently published in a Jammu-based Urdu newspaper.

To protest the deadly massacre of more than two dozen Hindus in Kulhand, a hamlet near Doda, in May, the letter stated, Jammu town observed a complete shut-down. That very morning the principal's grandson, a student in Jammu University, had to appear for an important examination.

He assumed that because of the strike the examination had been postponed. In the afternoon, he rang up a Hindu friend of his, who told him, to his shock, that the examination was actually on schedule and that he had just entered the examination hall. No vehicles were plying in the streets that day and the principal's son had no way out to reach the university. However, his friend magnanimously rushed out of the examination hall and sped on his motorcycle all the way to his
house and picked him. They arrived in the examination hall just in time to write their paper. 'Such examples of Hindu-Muslim harmony and friendship must be regularly highlighted in the press', the letter stressed.  As ill luck would have it, Haji sahib known for cementing Hindu Muslim relations not remained among us and left this world on 24th of July 2015 at his hometown Gandoh Bhalessa (RIP).

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  • “Kids in Bandipore are sharp and keen learners who if given the right opportunities and exposure can do wonders”

JAMMU: The Education is not merely for kids to clear exams and get degrees but also to open their minds and help them form opinions to make informed choices and that's where the difference between education and excellent education comes in. This was expressed by Jigyasa Labroo, a Teach for India fellow in Delhi, where she is committed to teaching children in an under resourced low income school for two years.

Presently Jigyasa Labroo is in Kashmir Valley’s Bandipore district working with Deputy Commissioner (DC) Dr. Shah Faesal's New Leaf Initiative (NLI) to improve educational standards in the schools in district of Bandipore by creating model schools and teacher training.

Talking to Editor-in-Chief of JK Monitor, Ajmer Alam Wani, Jigyasa expressed concern about state of education in Bandipore for which she mentioned that aser survey shows dismal results, one of the lowest in Kashmir.

Jigyasa observed is that the kids are sharp and keen learners who if given the right opportunities and exposure can do wonders. She further added that Teach for India along with the New Leaf Initiative (NLI) plans to impart the correct training to teachers so that the potential of these kids is realized.

Though born in Himachal Pradesh (HP), and brought up in Himachal and Chandigarh, Jigyasa is a Kashmiri by origin.

Jigyasa had come to Kashmir with an open mind regardless of what people had told her regarding the tension here and during her a month long stay here she was glad to do that because she found everyone in Kashmir friendly.

Having really great time in Kashmir she hoped that will leave Kashmir having contributed meaningfully by executing her project ‘Slam out Loud’ which she is executing these days in Kashmir.

In Kashmir, she has done two poetry workshops till now in Army Public School Srinagar and Government Higher Secondary School for Girls in the remote district of Bandipore for free.

Jigyasa told JK Monitor, that she started the initiative called Slam Out Loud, (SOL) which is a nonprofit initiative since December last year as project which aims to organize poetry as well as story telling events for children  to bring the art of Spoken Word to  classrooms and beyond.

She further added, “All we are trying at SOL is to build an arts community for our kids to collaborate, come and start projects together, meet, talk, learn and appreciate art. That is all we want to do-create a beautiful afternoon bimonthly, where our kids tell their stories through art, and we've begun by poetry and storytelling.  We are doing our events all over India, the last ones being in Delhi, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal”.

Jigyasa completed her education in Engineering from Delhi and have been living there since last five years. After Engineering, she decided to contribute to the society through a meaningful cause and hence joined the Teach For India fellowship.