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  • Writer's pictureNighat Shafi

"Women of Kashmir have faced the maximum brunt of conflict"

Nighat Shafi, the first woman to step out of her home during the peak of Kashmir militancy to help orphans and women directly affected by the conflict. She established her organisation, the HELP (Human Effort for Love and Peace) Foundation to uplift the rural communities, especially the women and children from the trauma of the conflict. The HELP Foundation works towards providing the affected communities with access to mental health counseling, education and especially helping women become financially resilient in the face of abuse and adversities.

With her work, she has become a champion of peace and harmony in Kashmir and was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. She speaks to the team of Unseen Conflicts on her work, the challenges posed by years of conflict and its impact across genders.

The chairperson of HELP Foundation, Nighat Shafi.

UC : What has been your story in navigating through the situation in Kashmir?

Nighat Shafi : There is no story except I felt the pain of people. I heard the cries of help. Those days people were not ready to take help from the government so we had to be brave enough to go to them. Firstly there was a hitch in proving to people about me not being with the government. My husband was a top bureaucrat . But I had to convince them that this is what a group of people want to do. Then I had to look for people and places which needed help. I have been visiting Kupwara right from the days of darkness. I developed faith in the community because they realized I had no tags and no agendas. My work was seen as a person who felt the pain of people.

My work was seen as a person who felt the pain of people.

UC : You were the first woman to be out there and help others in Kashmir. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced at that point of time?

Nighat Shafi: The challenges faced by me was first convincing my people that I need to do it. And me not being a working woman, the challenges were immense. And those days for a woman working in the social sector was a challenge. One faction would question why she is doing it. Then another faction , that maybe she has an agenda. But I have survived for 25 years. When you have a mission and dedication, things look upwards and trust is built.

UC : Has the Kashmiri society changed since the militancy, and what factors have contributed to these changes?

Nighat Shafi: Kashmiri Society has changed and is changing but conflict has left a mark on everyone. We have youth doing well in studies, doing wonderful all fields, but the scars are there and the fear is there too. After effects of conflict are drug abuse , exploitation of women, lack of jobs and fear is rampant.

Kashmiri Society has changed and is changing but conflict has left a mark on everyone.

UC : How has the armed conflict in Kashmir impacted different genders?

Nighat Shafi: I have worked in areas like Kunan, Dardpora and far away places of Kashmir. I think a woman can understand the pain and traumas better than men. My first thrust was on the education of orphan kids, which gave mothers confidence that they can share their traumas with me. I started building a bond with them, and started sharing experiences of other women too. We started having group therapies. Then after taking care of kids and traumas we started training programmes for livelihoods.

UC : Do women face different challenges when it comes to conflict in Kashmir?

Nighat Shafi: Women of Kashmir have faced the maximum brunt of conflict. They have turned into breadwinners and also faced the wrath of the conflict. Once they become widows, the struggle increases. Their rights are compromised. They are not accepted by families. Their sheltered life becomes a life of struggle. Traumas and bringing up kids is a challenge for them.

UC : How can women who have been the victims of trauma or abuse get the help they need? How has the HELP foundation contributed in this regard?

Nighat Shafi: Getting the ladies economically independent. Give them a life of dignity. We have trained thousands of girls and women and also set up livelihoods for them. We have created cooperatives for ladies. Developed a women's Credit Cooperative , to give soft loans.


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