Indien: Nighat Shafi Pandit

Nighat Pandit stepped out of a comfortable home to address the trauma of people in a 16-year-long conflict. She focuses on helping orphans and widows, and promoting peace and intercommunal harmony.

— Nighat Shafi Pandit

Braving physical danger and other risks, Nighat Shafi Pandit (born 1951) works with rural communities in violence-scarred Jammu and Kashmir. Belonging to a well-known Kashmiri family, Pandit is one of those rare women who stepped out of a comfortable home to address the pain and trauma of people caught up in a 16-year-long conflict. Her organization, the Help Foundation, Jammu and Kashmir, focuses on, among other things, educating orphans, rehabilitating widows, and promoting peace and intercommunal harmony.

Nighat Shafi Pandit stepped out of her home at a time when very few Kashmiri women were responding to the crisis in their midst. In 1997, she was the first woman to start an orphanage for children left homeless by the armed conflict in the Kashmir Valley. Today, the Help Foundation, Jammu and Kashmir, works overtime to provide succor to those worst affected by the conflict. The Help foundation is the only organization that operates effectively in both regions-Jammu and Kashmir-of this deeply divided state. The main activities of the organization are the education and raising of orphans, the rehabilitation of widows, mental health counseling for women and children, and the rehabilitation of physically and visually challenged children. It also works for the promotion of peace and intercommunal harmony: Nighat, a Muslim, works closely with the minority Hindu community-those living in the valley, and those displaced and living in refugee camps in Jammu. Nighat's "theater of operations" in the Kashmir Valley-the city of Srinagar, and the districts of Badgam, Pulwama, Baramulla, and Kupwara-is prone to militancy and violence. As she has learnt only too well, it is not the scale of violence in the valley as much as its unpredictable nature that poses the greatest danger. What keeps Nighat going is her close affinity with the land and people of the region. She belongs to a well-known family of Kashmir, which played a pioneering role in spreading education in the state-her grandfather was the first registrar of Jammu and Kashmir University. Like every family in Kashmir, hers, too, has been touched by the conflict. Her children (a son and two daughters) had to leave the valley at a time when children most need their parents, because of threats of kidnapping. But Nighat has stuck on.

Human Efforts for Love and Peace Foundation (Help Foundation)