#GoodNews|The Benevolent Pandit Who Helped Scores Of Kashmiri Students After The Abrogation Of Article 370
A Kashmiri migrant himself, he reached out to desperate Kashmiri students after the recent lockdown
Film and theatre actor Ashwath Bhatt was in Berlin when the lockdown of Kashmir began soon after Article 370, granting special rights to Jammu and Kashmir, was scrapped in July. After he returned to India, he came across many stories of Kashmiri Muslim students living in several parts of India, not being able to reach out to their families in Kashmir because of the communication blockade. He decided to do his bit. Bhatt spread the message from his social media accounts that he wanted to help. “They were in distress as they couldn't pay their college, rents or hostel fees. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford, but their parents were not able to send them money as nothing in Kashmir was working,” Bhatt told RD.
Bhatt reached out to students in several parts of the country. “From Moga in Punjab to Kolkata, Bangalore and Bhubaneswar—many got in touch with us. We provided them monetary support ranging anywhere between Rs 3,000 to Rs 10,000,” says Bhatt. A Kashmiri Pandit, Bhatt and his family left Srinagar during the early 90s fearing for their lives, along with thousands of others. But Bhatt says that he decided to never be "bitter and look at everything from a human point of view.”
“I haven’t forgotten those dark days we faced. But my mother and many of our close relatives, despite our loss of property and jobs, and becoming refugees in our own country, saw ourselves as victims of circumstances that were created in Jammu and Kashmir. So, there was no room for bitterness. But when I saw the way people were commenting on Kashmir after article 370 was scrapped, I felt that there was no room for nuance. The people who were suffering because of the complete lockdown were innocent students who were caught unawares. And there weren’t many people who were sympathizing with them,” says Bhatt.
Bhatt heads the Theatre Garage Project, a trust that he founded in 2007. It works in the field of theatre and taking up social causes. Bhatt first reached out to the members of the trust to donate generously and it was followed by social media. “People who know the kind of the work we do were the ones who we reached out to first. Looking at their positive reaction, we decided to cast a wider net,” Bhatt, who is a graduate of the prestigious National School of Drama, says.
It all started with a university student in Bengaluru who he got to know through an acquaintance. "The Bengaluru boy put me in touch a boy in Delhi who was in desperate need of money to meet his expenses. He, in turn, gave a long list of others in distress,” says Bhatt, explaining how he reached out to more and more Kashmiri students.
Does he conduct any checks to be sure that only genuine cases are taken up? “I first checked the students’ college IDs and spoke to them personally. Since I am a Kashmiri they spoke frankly about their problems," says Bhatt, who has also acted in Raazi and Kesari, both mainstream Bollywood films.
Some of the issues faced by the students included eviction from hostels due to non-payment of fees, to not being able to pay tuition fees in time and running out of rations.
But of course, he couldn’t meet all their needs. “If a student asks for Rs 10,000, I ask them to manage in Rs 5000 as we wanted to help as many students as possible. If somebody wanted Rs 5000, we said, please manage it within Rs 3000,” Bhatt explains.
Now that the situation has eased a bit and many of them have been able to get the money from their parents, several of them have got in touch with him saying that they want to return the amount. But Bhatt politely declines it. “We helped them when they were in need. I hope they also help others and spread goodness all around,” Bhatt says.
May his tribe grow and may we continue to exhibit selfless acts of kindness like Ashwath Bhatt.