110 youngsters died in the 2010 unrest in Kashmir. The same old conflict of over 60 years had taken the life of another 110 people with it. For Sarang, who had been working in Kashmir since 2001, it was another blow. “All those who came onto the road to throw stones at the security force were given Rs.400 each and the end result was 110 civilian deaths. There is a serious economic problem in Kashmir. There are only government jobs available to the youth but that is not sufficient to employ all. The private sector is reluctant to invest in Kashmir. The youth work in farms or earn via some odd jobs,” says Sarang Gosavi, Founder, Aseem Foundation.
Sarang began his work in Kashmir in 2001 after listening to the talk of Lt Gen Patankar, then Score Commander Kashmir 15 Corp. Sarang decided to leave Pune, to help the people in Kashmir. As a humble start, Sarang decided to act on an issue, a serious consequence of the political unrest in Kashmir – unemployment of the youth in Kashmir. Being a trained software professional, he began by teaching the youth what he knew best – computer skills enabling them to teach computer skills to others. These youngsters were equipped to set up their own computer training centers that enabled them to earn a living and also spread computer knowledge among other Kashmiris. Old computers from IT companies were collected to start these computer training centres. By 2006, Aseem Foundation had trained youngsters to set up website developing companies for houseboats that have become sustainable businesses today.
“Even if a kid goes to school, army personnel would check him/her twice with a gun in the hand. The gun and the man with the gun is India to the kid. He sees only that face of India. What they speak about India is because of what they have seen throughout their lives. Our promise to them was if government is not helping you then we will work with you and develop something with you,” says Sarang explaining the thought behind Aseem Foundation which was officially registered only in 2010.
In 2010, the civilian deaths made Sarang think further. Stepping outside without the fear of death for a meager sum of Rs.400 was a sign of something more serious. “I asked few of these youngsters what they achieved in the protest? They didn’t get the output that they wanted. And people died. I told them let us start something. Let us start something as business instead of depending on government or private companies. Let us utilize our strengths and build a business. I spoke to 150 odd youngsters out of which 10 agreed,” explains Sarang who continues to work in the IT industry to support the cause of Aseem Foundation.
Interestingly, one of the Kashmiris offered the apples that he grew as a starting point for their business idea. With apples as their only capital, the team decided to work on producing apple biscuits from Kashmir. Taking support from the senior students of Gynan Pravodhini School Pune, Aseem Foundation got down to doing research and survey on the cost, means of producing the apple biscuit etc.
The market is competitive after all. Nobody was willing to train them or help them out till Mr.Ambikhe from Pune offered to teach them the process of making apple biscuits. So the Kashmiris were trained. The first batch of the product was ready in Jan 2012 made by the Kashmiris from their base in Pune. The cost of setting up a bakery is Rs.50,000. Since the raw materials also require investment, for now, the team prepares the dough and gets the biscuits baked in other bakeries.
As for how they fund their projects, the volunteers who work with Aseem contribute from their salaries. 50% of Sarang’s salary goes to the cause of promoting the spirit of entrepreneurship as a mean of livelihood among Kashmiris. “We all work in different IT companies so that we don’t have to beg for funds. We don’t usually get funds when it comes to Kashmir. We don’t want to work on getting funds instead do what others do and make money for it,” says Sarang.
Aseem Foundation intends to build an industry with the idea of preparing apple biscuits in Kashmir. They are also planning to set up a business of making embroidered purses by Kashmiri women with online and offline presence. They are also initiating several kinds of engagements between schools in Maharashtra, Kashmir and North East India.
As for Sarang’s experience working with the Kashmiris, he says,“All we have worked with in Kashmir have been good. They are smart and intelligent and so human that I have learnt a lot from them. People from the metros see them in wrong light. I have been all around Kashmir, everybody treats me only like their brother.”
For more information, take a look at Aseem Foundation