Gulam Mohammed Sheikh a resident of Central Kashmir village hastily approached a Rashtriya Rifles(RR) company operating base in vicinity of his house, as the health of his child Nasir deteriorated in the early morning hours of the day. The child was provided immediate medical support and was evacuated to a civil hospital in a military ambulance. For many people like Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, these RR bases have remained as ‘One Stop Shop’ for all their emergency needs, be it firefighting, medical evacuation, snow avalanche/ vehicle accident relief or assistance in organizing a marriage or other social functions. These bases have emerged as ‘Islands of Peace & Relief’ for the people of Kashmir valley. The perceptible change in the attitude of people from apprehensions to cordiality and subsequently, development of renewed trust has occurred over the years with continued engagement and co- existence during volatile times.
By virtue of their operating pattern, wherein the troops of RR have been travelling on foot over the years to distant and remote places to interact with rural folks, as also to inquire about their ‘Khairiyat’ has eventually created an unbreakable bond between people and the soldiers. Their presence not only provides a sense of security to the villages, but also offers them hope and helping hand during difficult times. Today, RR bases are not treated as an extension of security establishment, but as an integral part of the ‘way of life’ of a common Kashmiri. Numerous sadhbhavana projects have been undertaken by the RR troops over the years which have touched the lives of so many common people including youth, elders and women folk. Sadhbhavana projects which comprises medical / veterinary camps, educational tours, village games, inter school competitions, youth festivals, drug de-addiction campaigns, employment assistance, cleanness drive, etc. have provided a gateway and opportunities to people of the valley in looking beyond their daily lives in order to realize the importance of ‘what lies beyond’.
Young children all over the valley look forward to a fun filled day with RR Company Commander. Kho-Kho, Tug of war, races, volleyball, excursion tour, adventure activities viz trekking, mountain climbing, etc. are few such events which keeps these young children engaged during the day. Limited opportunities at home nudge these youngsters to take active part in such events and their enthusiasm is palpable. Many a times, the youth have been motivated to enroll in the forces having closely witnessed a disciplined life of a soldier. Today, a vehicle column of security forces passing through a village is welcomed by the children waving their hands. This is in stark contrast to the stone throwing teenagers of the yester years. In recent years, RR has undertaken an unprecedented initiative to reform and guide the youth who somehow got drifted towards terrorism, radicalism and were influenced by the inimical elements in the society. These events endeavor's to provide them with skill sets useful in getting employment, as also teaches the correct tenets of the religion. One such programme comprising of 35 youths from South Kashmir has recently concluded at Anantnag. Participants were all praises for this two-week workshop and many more today aspire to be part of it.
Realising the importance of environment conservation, RR has contributed in a major way by tree plantation in their area of responsibility, raising awareness within the society about cleanliness and garbage disposal. The ecology in the region being fragile requires nurturing and involvement of all. The troops have been able to impress upon at least a section of society, if not in entirety. What ails the Kashmiri society today is the large-scale drug abuse by the youths. Various drug de-addiction camps, workshops and seminars have been conducted by the RR units in several places. Acknowledging their contribution, a drug free youth who remains indebted to the soldiers of RR for his de-addiction and owes his life to the selfless services of the troops. This force has not only spoken but demonstrated their commitment towards social responsibilities. Generally, RR has been perceived as a force only involved in counter terror operations and their ferocious side is visible in such operations. However, their softer side of empathy & compassion also needs to be viewed and acknowledged. Due to its nature of deployment and its approach towards locals, it has touched the lives of so many people in different ways. The resultant bonhomie between the Kashmiri people and soldiers has denuded the support bases of the terror ecosystem. Dedication, spirit and acts of kindness has endeared the soldiers to the Kashmiris in the years gone by. Today, they form an integral part of the society and co-habitat in a friendly neighborhood.