Sanjeev K. Sharma
Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s way of fighting for freedom in a non-violent way, Kunwarani Ritu Singh, daughter-in-law of royal family of the erstwhile J&K State, asserted that non-violence is need of the hour in our Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory.
“We need to live in co-existence and stop violence. At Delhi Public School (DPS) you will see students from almost all the communities getting education and I have been practising this belief for the last 30 years of my life,” Ritu Singh, also, Pro-Vice Chairperson of DPS Jammu stated adding: “If one studies Gandhi Ji, Nelson Mandela and Maharaja Hari Singh (last Dogra ruler of erstwhile J&K State) and join dots one will find a commonality of non-violence.”
In an exclusive interview with Daily Excelsior, Ritu, who has been recently conferred Nelson Mandela Peace Foundation Award said that the award means much to her.
“Since my childhood I was very much motivated by good works done by Mandela who spent 27 years in jail and was father of a nation and what he has done for Africa was phenomenal,” she said remembering the days when she used to listen speeches of Mandela in her childhood which left much influence on her.
“So many years later for me to receive an award by his (Mandela’s) name is a big prestige,” Ritu said recalling how Maharaja Hari Singh in Round Table Conference held in England had stated that all religions are one and his religion was justice.
“So Nelson Mandela got justice for his people without being violent and he taught that one should practice rather than preach,” she further said.
Ritu then talked about her works and said that in the year 1996 she started a school called Saplings and in 1998 turned it into DPS by collaborating with DPS Society.
“Initially we started DPS with just 20-30 students and at that time there were only a few public schools in Jammu,” she informed adding: “At DPS under a programme called Prayas we give free education to underprivileged students recognizing their talent. Today many of such students are at good positions and I thank them because, only because of them I have received the award named after Mandela.”
“I belong to a family that has given much to Jammu and my forefathers especially Maharaja Hari Singh had a huge influence on my life for certain things. I read about him wherein he has said that when a girl gets married her Gotra gets changed and I was only 19 when I got married and after that I considered myself as Daughter-of-the-soil and really wanted to do something for the people here. I believe that education and health are two important sectors which need to be addressed in Jammu,” she maintained adding that her father Ashok Kapoor has played a big role in her life and taught her many values including the one that we should secretly do social works.
The daughter-in-law of J&K’s royal family stated that at DPS she has instructed the teachers to stop asking students their religion and she even got deleted the section where religion is to be filled in forms.
“We recently did clean the Tawi project, tree plantations and we have an Environment Club. We do a lot of social activities in school by engaging students which makes them learn values and we teach them what violence does and how it is harmful,” she further said.
Ritu has also been associated with a Trust on the name of her father which does many social works including organizing medical camps etc.
She informed that she was also influenced by her mom in her childhood as her mom used to teach blind students without charging anything.
On receiving the award, she said, it was a moment mix of emotions because Nelson Mandela was a very humble person like her father and someone whom she considered as a hero since her childhood.
“Growing up I saw my father as a simple man who would go after justice in every possible way. Five years back, I lost my father and he used to say that I have to take ahead his task and he blessed me. While receiving the award, I remembered my father and I am conscientiously doing what my father has taught me,” Ritu said.
She said that in the year 2003, she started a foundation in the name of Maharaja Hari Singh and a statue of Maharaja was installed outside DPS and to her surprise when she asked the children about that great personality, even some teachers were not aware of Maharaja and that is a great injustice which the history has done with him.
“We are all aware about how this injustice has happened but in our own way we have been doing a lot to keep the legacy of Maharaja Hari Singh alive and to complete what he has left incomplete,” she asserted.
Ritu Singh said that her responsibility is big and with her efforts she is trying to educate girls across Jammu to empower them.
“Today we hear Beti Bachao, Beti Padao but Maharaja Hari Singh had said it long back and he also worked for transgender community,” she said mentioning about an incident when she met someone from the community of transgenders who told her that Maharaja gave them a place called Manju Ka Tila.
“I am only carrying the baton and I am also teaching these things to my children,” she said.
Ritu Singh claimed that she was not in favour of holiday on the name of Maharaja Hari Singh but expressed desire that Jammu airport should be named after him as he was the first to start this airport and also opened temples for all.
On ways to keep communal harmony intact in J&K, she said that few days back she joined a heritage walk organized by FICCI FLO Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh (JKL) in Jammu to show the people that Jammu is a beautiful city and people of Jammu are accepting everyone in unique ways.
“The walk started from near Radio Station Jammu and moved to Panjtirthi then to Jain Bazaar and then to Lakhdata Bazaar to Kanak Mandi to Rajinder Bazaar and finally culminated at Mubarak Mandi,” Ritu Singh, also, chairperson FICCI FLO JKL said adding that apart from the beautiful architecture en-route they found existence of all the communities which existed even way back in those days when Mubarak Mandi was made in the year 1800.
“I bowed before an ancient Gurudwara en-route then at an old temple and found a church ahead beyond which was a beautiful mosque. We saw all these beautiful spots and took blessings from these places and moved ahead,” she continued.
Ritu said that we as people of Jammu should recognize each other and we should know that we were treated step-brotherly and denied of our dues.
“We all as a community should be inclusive of each other. I have seen people in other places are united but in Jammu we have a habit of pulling each other down which we should stop now and we have to come together as a community,” she advised.
Ritu informed that FICCI FLO JKL is the newest thing that she has been doing and it started on May 24, 2021 in J&K in the midst of COVID Delta wave.
“FICCI FLO is FICCI’s Ladies Organisation and was established 38 years back and today it has all India presence. In Jammu FICCI FLO JKL has adopted a park in Green Belt area of Gandhi Nagar and we are also providing computer education to rural girls apart from doing many other social works,” she said.
Sanjeev K. Sharma