BARAMULLA: There has been a perceptible change in the attitude of youths who have taken part in ‘Sahi Raasta’, a civil-military programme to wean away the younger population from Kashmir valley who may have deviated on the path of radicalisation, says the Army.
The aim of the programme, run jointly by the Army and the Jammu and Kashmir administration, is to address the “cognitive behaviours of vulnerable youth” through the narrative of ‘Kashmiriyat’ for peace and prosperity, as an alternative to terror and death” and thus help break the “cycle of violence,” a senior Army official here said.
“So far, 130 youths have undertaken this programme, since its inception a year ago, and visible change has been seen, both in terms of the psychological impact and the correct way forward adopted by participants, barring a very small percentage in which no perceived change has been seen,” he said.
As part of the ‘Sahi Raasta’ (meaning correct path) initiative, identified youths who have either been radicalised or drifted on that path are brought back and integrated into the mainstream through a 21-day residential programme during which experts from various fields, besides, several senior Army officers interact with them.
The initiative is also part of the two-pronged strategy of the Army in combating terrorism in the Valley. Earlier, it was through elimination of terrorists via military operations, but now the move is to also strike at the root cause of radicalisation among them, before vulnerable youths are lured into and radicalised to commit nefarious acts, sources said.
Six batches, with the average age of such youths in the category of 16-25 years, a majority of them hailing from north Kashmir, have undergone the ‘Sahi Raasta’ programme which the Army describes as a “fun-based learning experience” for the participants.
“We provide them boarding, lodging, food and take care of their health and well-being, and through picnic and other fun activities, besides interactions, try to show them the right path without questioning their thoughts, so that they themselves are able to discern between what is right and what is wrong, and thus get reformed,” the official said.
Another senior Army official here told PTI that a very “experienced psychologist” is also on board for this programme, besides a range of experts from various fields like education, sports and industry who visit these youths and interact with them during the programme.
“Now, with the positive transformation seen in largely all these youths, we hope that the programme will be a scaled up,” he said.
Chinar Corps Commander Lt Gen A D S Aujla in Srinagar had earlier said that ‘Sahi Raasta’ programme is being run to wean away gullible youths, from the path of radicalisation, and the Army in conjunction with the UT administration is making all efforts in that direction.
The strategic Srinagar-based Chinar Corps is responsible for guarding the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir valley.
These youths are identified based on inputs from Jammu and Kashmir Police, senior Army officers and others, and after consent of their parents or family guardians, they join the programme, and at the end of it, are safely escorted back to their homes, sources said.
A top Army official of the Counter Insurgency Force (Kilo), based in Srinagar, said mentors, who include political leaders, clerics (‘maulavis’), police officials and others interact with “these boys”.
“And, these boys are radicalised who may be going on to a path, which may lead to getting recruited into a terrorist group. And, after about 21 days of the programme, there is a visible, perceptible change in their attitude, in the way of looking at things. And, by far, we have not had incidents where these youths after the programme have gone on a wrong path. So, it is a good achievement,” he said.
Mehraj Malik, programme manager of the initiative, says radicalisation is a “slow and gradual process” and “social media today is playing a big role in it”.
“When we asked the participants, why they chose that deviant path, they told us it was often due to religion factor. The nexus of terrorists, adversary and OGWs (overground workers) taps such impressionable minds for radicalisation who are either very vulnerable or frustrated in life. Wrong interpretation of religion is often used by the nexus to radicalise them, or a sense of revenge fed into them, among other means,” he told PTI.
“During the programme, we ask them what they feel is wrong and what they feel antagonised about, and then show them the right way by explaining and removing their misconceptions or misconstrued interpretations of religion, among others,” he said, adding that the programme is majorly run at an Army facility in Haiderbeig area in Baramulla.
On the last day of the programme, there is a sort of a felicitation ceremony, where the Army officers come, and these youths are safely sent back to their homes, Malik said.
“On the last day, when their parents or guardians see the men in uniform, it also builds a sense of confidence in the minds of the family members about the environment of security in the Valley with the presence of security forces,” he said.