It was my second or third day as part of my orientation and familiarisation to the area after being newly posted to the North Kashmir valley. We were moving in a village as part of routine Area Domination Patrol, I was standing next to a mosque while the Company Commander in whose area and with whom I was doing my area familiarisation was interacting with some locals. After few minutes, 10-15 children of different age groups came out of the mosque and started talking to the soldiers accompanying us, there was something different about the looks in their eyes, their expressions and their behaviour, which I couldn't stop from noticing. It was the friendliness, the joy, the expression of belongingness which astonished me the most. I was in total awe when after speaking among themselves in kashmiri for a minute, a group of kids came close to me and asked me "Yeh kounsa rifle hai". I took few seconds to control my excitement and asked how do they know anything about weapons, and many of them replied in unison, "Hum Pub-G khelte hain".
My astonishment was caused by my experiences of serving in this area six years back, as during that time the children would be intimidated from the very sight of soldiers, they would be extremely hesitant even to take chocolates from soldiers and they would run away at the sight of army coming in the village. But now not only the fear of the Army was gone, rather the kids were so friendly and comfortable in talking to us freely. For me, it was a transformation of prodigious significance, because it is an established fact that the permanent solution to the Kashmir problem lies in the way the hearts and minds of next generations of this beautiful part of our country are nurtured and channelised.
With an unflinching eagerness and curiosity, I asked the Company Commander about the magic wand with which hewas able to create the bond, a sense of friendship and feeling of 'our own' among the children about the Army orthe soldiers. It was at that point he explained to me about the splendid concept called "A Day with Company Commander". As I learned more and more about the conduct of this amazing event at every company, I could clearly relate to the friendliness and affection shown by those kids in the village. It was finally, when I saw this amazing event being conducted in the Company, it became crystal clear to me that how from being portrayed by our enemies as a demon, an outsider or a conqueror, the image of a soldier is transformed into that of a friend, a saviour, a hero or even the kid himself while playing 'Pub-G'. It was a very congenial experience to see the kids playing games with soldiers which they play with their friends in the villages, sitting on the grass and having snacks from the same plate, taking selfies with the Company Commander, touching and feeling the equipment put on display for them. It was exhilarating to hear the hearty laugh, all of them had, when the Company Commander missed the football kick through a hanging tyre, but one of them scored. They would stand hugging and jumping close to the Company Commander and try to sneak in, to stand next to him while asked for the group photo. My eyes filled with joy and a sense of accomplishment when out of the group of kids who were touching and asking the Company Commander about his service ribbons, name plate and other articles of uniform, one innocent little child said "mai bhi aap ke jaisa banuga". And some others also joined in saying,"mai bhi".
It became certain to me that if we continue to connect with this generation and are able to eliminate the feeling of alienation, it would be extremely difficult for any anti-national element to misguide, corrupt or create an inimical image of Army and of India in the minds of these kids. And that would provide a stepping stone for creation of eternal peace and prosperity of Kashmir and pave the way for it to become one of the most developed parts of India, driven by its own youth in years to come.
There's no doubt that these innovative ideas to ensure integration and acceptance of armed forces by the young generation as their protector and friends via initiatives like these, would accrue multifarious dividends in the times to come in ensuring lack of public support for fraction sowing animosity among the youth, with an aim to keep the pot of insurgency boiling for their own malicious agendas.