Susheela Bhan

Ashoka Fellow
India,
Fellow Since 2003
The Institute of Peace Research & Action

Citation

This profile was prepared when Susheela Bhan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
While Kashmir has long been ripped apart by years of warfare, a period of calm now affords the opportunity for Susheela to begin rebuilding–starting from the places most damaged by the conflict–the schools. Working with government school students and teachers in Kashmir, she guides the development of a situated curriculum designed to help young people overcome years of endemic violence and lead the recovery of a tolerant and pluralistic society. Using students and teachers as an entry point, she aims to reach families, neighborhoods, mosques, and armed groups, challenging the hatred that has eaten away humane relations by reawakening citizens to their gentle traditions that afford practical alternatives to carnage and bigotry.
The key to Susheela's work is her strategic use of Kashmiri culture and identity. Whereas the conflict has been treated by the state as a problem of law and order, Susheela's program is the first cultural and educational scheme to help Kashmiris free themselves from their plight. Its "cultural" exterior is nonthreatening and universal. This is important. Even though conditions in Kashmir are now sufficiently stable to allow her work to move ahead, there are many risks. Susheela's team monitors every step of the work carefully and keeps the contents moving in response to the interests of the students and teachers, as well as the overall conditions. The curriculum is practical and evolving, informed by future needs and not romantic notions of the past. As Susheela explains, "My objective is not to organize some cultural programs but rather, starting with the students and teachers, to transform the society into something dynamic, secular and plural, so that people will never be exploited again, so that they will fight for their rights."
Equipped with new attitudes, knowledge, and skills, students and teachers become a force for positive change. Susheela's choice of government school students as the main catalysts for social renewal is significant, as they have also been the primary targets for recruitment by armed groups. In motivating them to stand for humanistic values as a cultural imperative, she is challenging them to become engaged citizens and leaders toward a new period of prosperity. However, they must be well trained and prepared–morally, intellectually, and professionally–for this daunting task. To that end, in addition to its cultural elements, an expanding proportion of the program's curriculum is being given over to skills training, thereby increasing participants' confidence in their ability to give direction to their damaged society.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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