Yakjah’s journey began sometime in 2000-2001 , far away from Jammu and Kashmir in the capital city of India, New Delhi. It was the new home for many Kashmiris who were escaping the turmoil back home , looking for opportunities , safety and security or had escaped in 1990 to live in exile as a refugee in camps. The story begins between two Kashmiri woman , one Hindu ( Pandit) and the other Muslim who worked together in the same office complex in New Delhi. Their conversations over and about Kashmir, the situation back home and exile of Pandits blossomed into trusting friendship. Both stepped beyond their comfort zone to embrace each other’s world view, faith practices and peace notions.
Not long after, both decided to expand the space to include more people from either side. The group that was formed included more Kashmiri Muslim and Pandits. They regularly met over coffee, listening to stories from either side. Sometimes there was a difference of opinion , anger and an out cry, at other times it was collective emotional longing for co-shared spaces, nostalgia, acceptance and acknowledgement of a past that continued to hurt. However, it was a paradoxical sense of vulnerability as well as solidarity that somehow was instrumental in cementing their ties that helped them to tide over their limitations. They decided to name the group Yakjah, which in Kashmir means ‘being together’. Their vision was to take forward its philosophy of healing through listening and idea of oneness and so they started working through theater with young Kashmiri children, mostly those who lived in refugee camps of Kashmiri Pandits . Regular theatre activities allowed the children to express themselves. They then traveled back to their home region in Kashmir Valley as well as Kashmiri Pandit camps in Jammu region to engage with children there. At this point in Yakjah’s journey two more Kashmiris, one Muslim and other a Sikh who lived in Kashmir Valley joined the group. Their inclusion energized the group. It also strengthened it as it was crucial to open dialogue spaces within Valley which had none at that point of time.
The dialogue through theater translated in small skits on ‘Communal Harmony’ in 2002 in New Delhi. Children traveled all the way from Jammu and Kashmir, led by one of the Kashmiri Yakjah member. This was followed by another collective theater production on ‘Understanding Differences’, in Gulmarg, Kashmir in 2005. The collective play by 70 Kashmiri Muslim and Pandit children in the heart of Srinagar, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir did not leave a single eye dried in the audience of more than 200 people. Yakjah later did several workshops in various cities in the state and in 2010 formally registered itself as a non-profit. Since 2005 Yakjah has expanded beyond Kashmiri children to include youth from all regions of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and all Kashmiri, Gujjar, Dogra, Ladakhi, Pahari communities of these regions providing them a space for expression, healing, transformation and leading themselves and their communities to better interpersonal relationships.