Our Story

Yakjah is a Kashmiri word meaning ‘being together’. It offers a safe space for self-expression for young people polarised and radicalized by conflict experiences and competitive narratives. It brings youth with opposing viewpoints and experiences like those who have witnessed violence /displacement/ exile and are deeply traumatized by personal and collective grief. This isn’t an easy thing to do keeping in mind that the prevailing divisive eco-culture has fragmented socio-political spaces and boxed people into separated segments on the basis of religion, ethnicity, culture and sects. Besides, the presence of violent extremism and shrunk spaces for free expression wherein there is no space for the complexity of thoughts/ideas to be articulated, Yakjah is a political act of cutting across such divisions and complexities to form human connections through compassionate listening, healing and transformation processes. Yakjah in early 2000 began as an informal meeting space for a few Kashmiri professionals, both Muslim and Pandits ( Hindus). Far away from their homeland, they met over cups of coffee in New Delhi to share memories of what it was for them back in Kashmir. The pain of being uprooted, of losing a home, a loved one, a common culture and human relations surfaced in the conversations. They listened to each other’s stories and held difficult conversations without judging each other. Later in 2002, the informal group named itself ‘Yakjah’ and reached out to children’s groups in the age group of 10-16 years in the Kashmiri Pandit refugee camps located in Delhi/Jammu and orphanages/schools comprising Muslim children located in Kashmir valley. The children collectively co-created theatre performances that included their life stories, experiences and perspectives about what was happening around them. As a witness to growing up in a violent environment or cramped spaces of refugee camps conditioned by respective narratives as told to them by their families, society, teachers, community and political leaders they negotiated their feelings and emotions of what was so deeply rooted within their minds. The ‘new reality’ they experienced within the shared space altered their relationship from hostility and animosity to humane bonding. These shared emotional encounters affirmed the need to carve a humanitarian platform for exchange at the human level, which was lacking in the conflict discourse. These exchanges through theatre and storytelling with children from camps and orphanages continued for a few years. In 2010 Yakjah formally registered itself as a non-profit. By then the conflict had become more protracted and the faultlines around ethnicity, religion and regions had deepened. With the changing nature of the conflict, Yakjah turned its attention to developing compassionate and transcendent leadership that could transcend these rigid identity faultlines, the core reason for the conflict. It is then that Yakjah stepped beyond the geographical boundaries of only engaging with stakeholders from Kashmir Valley to involve and include those from the Jammu and Ladakh region as well. Communities in Jammu and Ladakh too are directly and indirectly impacted by the conflict and are important stakeholders. Opening up the transformative space by expanding the anthropological terrain of the conflict helped in including a diversity of perspectives. This helped in enriching the collective experience of the young people and also deepening the discourse. Yakjah’s workshops are customized, conceptualized and designed on self and emotional awareness. They introduce the participants to examine their personal statehood of ‘victimhood consciousness’ that is stopping them from fully accessing their compassionate self for the emotions attached to a sense of victimhood is by far the strongest second identity possessed by people. Letting it go needs to be cultivated for freeing oneself so as to end the cycle of violence and resentment. Walking this path of self-awareness even when the conflict is exploding around makes is a unique process that has survived major political.