Eleven boys from the conflict-ridden region of Kashmir have excelled in Marathi in the Class 10 exam conducted by the Maharashtra government. Being in Pune for the last eight years after they were adopted by the non-profit organisation, Sarhad, the language and the city has become their own, they said.

15-year-old Tenzin Namdol from the Jhaskar region scored the highest in Marathi amongst the boys. “I got 76 marks in Marathi, and 69 per cent in the rest of the subjects,” he beams proudly. All of them attend the Sarhad School in Pune, along with the local children. They study in the English medium, with Marathi as the second language.

“In the beginning, it was difficult to understand the language, but we learnt slowly,” Manjur Ahmed, who scored 75 in Marathi and 70 per cent in all, states.

“When we return home for the holidays, people ask us what we are doing in a place that is so far away. But this doesn’t seem far away anymore,” Tenzin said. His home in the Jhaskar valley is a day’s travel from Kargil, he said.

“Earlier, people at home used to tell us that we won’t return. But they see us returning every holiday. They know we will return for the development of the region,” Mohsin Ali, from Kupwara, who scored 75 per cent overall, and 73 in Marathi, said.

“In my village, Dardpur in Kupwara, there are many children who still don’t go to school. I feel lucky that I came here and I have passed Class 10,” said Dilbar Khoja, who has scored the highest overall amongst the boys at 80 per cent, with 72 in Marathi.

Asked if they have decided on their careers, all the boys said there is ample time for that. “We know we want to return and work for education in Kashmir. We want our villages to be a little like Pune,” Kifayat Lon stated. He has scored 63 per cent overall, and 62 in Marathi.

‘Perfect ambassadors’

Sarhad Founder Sanjay Nahar said the children make perfect ambassadors for both Pune and Kashmir. “When we got the children, the idea was to inculcate the local culture in them, without disconnecting them from their roots. We didn’t isolate anyone, and they study along with local children. We wanted to inculcate leadership qualities in them,” he said.

When the children came here in 2004, Mr. Nahar hoped he could take up their development without antagonizing the locals. Today, with the children speaking Marathi and taking in the culture, he knows he has inched closer to his goal.