Nightingale of the Camp

Rajneesh Kumar Gupta
“I am only one, but I am one . I cannot do everything but I can do something . And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
-Edward Everett Hale
The above quotation is opt for a great personality Smt. Raj Bharti of UT of Jammu & Kashmir who is also an excellent role model for all . She is a living legend who has worked with Mahatma Gandhi and General Cariappa and we all are extremely fortunate to have her amongst us .
It was a very proud moment for me to have a conversation with Raj Bharti a dedicated social worker of Jammu & Kashmir about her life which is an inspiration for all . Here are some excerpts of that conversation.
Question :Madam, please tell us about your birth and childhood days ?
Answer:- I was born at Hiranagar Tehsil. My father Sh. Udho Ram Sharma was a Hakim and mother was a housewife . I had one elder sister and a younger brother. I did my matriculation at Lahore. At that time many Dogras ran their businesses from Neela Gumbad , Lahore. In those time during evenings all the Dogras gathered and discussed various matters.
Question :Which circumstances compelled you to migrate to Jammu ?
Answer:- That was the year 1946 when Hindu – Muslim violence broke out and there were widespread massacres at Lahore . We migrated to our house at Mubarak Mandi, Jammu. My elder sister Shanta Bharti ran a magazine from there named “Bharti Magazine”. It became so popular that people named us as Bharti and I was also transformed from Raj Sharma to Raj Bharti.
Question :- Did you feel that those years were of turmoil and life was uncertain then ?
Answer :- Yes . Migration was at its peak and both Hindu and Muslim ran to different places to save their lives from an unknown fear .Many children became orphans due to this carnage . At Mirpur and Rajouri areas, there were riots and bloodshed and many Hindu and Muslims were slaughtered . I was young and often cried when I saw the dark future . I could not bear the sufferings of mankind and there was a wave of fear and dread everywhere I saw. My sister Shanta Bharti was a very brave and courageous lady and she consoled me by saying,
“You should not cry over what is not in our hands . When you see that your honour and life is at stake , touch the open electric wires and end your life with dignity .”
For this purpose Shanta Bharti had kept two electric wires open at a certain distance.
4. Question :- How did your journey as a social worker begin ?
Answer:- I recall my past and my heart fills with grief and melancholy . There was an empty house at Moti Bazar where some orphan children were staying . Shanta Bharti was so dedicated and full of compassion that she brought up those children as her own children . She changed their clothes and fed them with her own hands. I also went there and tried to mitigate the sufferings of those children.
Army men then walked through the streets of Jammu and asked the civilians to collect chapattis for distribution at border areas . I went with my friends from door to door to collect chapattis and handed them over to armymen . The armymen also demanded chapattis with salt (namkeen roti) and I collected them too.
Question :- Who conferred the title Nightingale of the Camp on you ?
Answer:- The Nagrota camp was filled with refugees and they were facing many hardships. I tried to reduce their sufferings by providing them medicines, food and wiping their tears . First Indian Commander- in – Chief of the Indian Army, K.M. Cariappa conferred on me the title of “Nightingale of the Camp”by seeing my services for the refugees.
Question :- Please tell us about your experience of meeting Mahatma Gandhi when he visited Jammu.
Answer :- That was the period around 1946 when Mahatma ji visited Jammu . Then Manager, Govt. Printing Press , Rehari chowk , Jagannath came forward and offered his premises for Gandhi ji. My duty was to forward slips bearing names of the visitors to Gandhiji. I felt proud of myself that I was selected for this prestigious work. Many people thanked me for providing them an opportunity to meet Gandhi ji .
Question :- How did you expand your social work ?
Answer :- Once I saw some children playing at Rehari Chungi area . All of them were in shabby and wretched condition. I went to them and asked whether they were interested in studies. All of them said “Yes.” I was determined to help them study at any cost but the problem was to find a place for study . I hired a room but the landlady refused to give on rent her premises for teaching purpose. I had to convince her by saying I wanted space for a few hours per day and it was for humanity and for making the career of our children. I also offered her a good rent .At last the landlady was satisfied and the school was started with a zeal and enthusiasm. Chief Inspector of School Education asked my sister what Raj was doing these days. Didi told the chief inspector that she was busy with her teaching work . The inspector was so influenced that she showed her interest to visit my school . She came and she was very influenced with the way of teaching children . She asked me to provide the school to them and they offered me the job of a teacher . At first I showed no interest but afterward accepted the offer and started my teaching job at Govt. Girls Higher Secondary School, Mubarak Mandi. I did my diploma in Physical Education from Madras and became sports officer.
I once visited our temple at Nagrota area. I saw many children wearing dirty and torn clothes and in pathetic condition . I also started teaching them. They were almost 400 in number under the shade of a tree. I did not bother about harsh weather conditions and I did my teaching work with perseverance.
Question :- Please tell us about your achievements as a sports officer .
Answer :- I always treated my services to the society as my duty . I encouraged students to participate in sports in almost every area of Jammu province. I covered Banihal, Poonch, Rajouri and I was also posted at far flung areas like Rajouri . I also visited Basohli area to educate children about sports . We had to reach Basohli via Pathankot and by crossing Ravi river . Bishtis used to carry people on their shoulders from one bank of the river to the other. I was promoted to the rank of Assistant Director and my zeal to work also increased .
Question:- Madam , how did Viraj Bal Bhawan come into existence ?
Answer :- The number of children increased in my open school at Nagrota . Thereafter , I was allotted land at Khanpur and rooms for school were also constructed there. A well built building was ready for school as finally hard work had paid off .
I retired from services in 1992 and in the same year I also started Viraj Kala Kendra, an organization for the promotion of art and culture and for the welfare of children and women .In the same year the school at Khanpur was named as Viraj Bal Bhawan .
Question :- You had also made women of slum areas self dependent .How did this become possible ?
Answer :- A factory manager once visited me and I requested him to train the women of slum areas in the field of making Lijjat papads . My request was approved and we helped those women.
Question :- Madam, Viraj Kala Kendra is progressive in which fields ?
Answer:- We have organized many competitions in the field of clay modelling, painting competitions and ladies programmes on the eve of Independence Day. We have trained women of rural areas in the field of folk art, making hand made fans called PAKHI and bamboo made mats called “BINNA”. I trained students of schools to make clay divas, sold them in the markets on the occasion of Diwali and spent the earnings on the welfare of those children . We have also participated in many theatre festivals and have produced several stage plays in Hindi and Dogri language . I am also a skilled sculptor and I was awarded as First sculptor women by Ambala Punjab.
Question :- Madam, what you want in future life and what message you have to the society ?
Answer:- I feel so happy to see students of my school as employee of factories, businessmen and holding high positions in other Departments. I have achieved much in life and I want to pass my future life in the service of the mankind . I do not expect anything from any one . I thank various organizations to honour me. My message to the society is to live and let live . Don’t be jealous of others’ achievements. Rather try to learn from them . Be courteous and believe in simple living and high thinking.