Meet the man behind ‘Hug Me’ campaign: Dr Sandeep Mawa

Meet the man behind ‘Hug Me’ campaign: Dr Sandeep Mawa

He has become a sensation and is currently trending on Facebook after the Hug Campaign at Press Colony in Srinagar. His father was shot in October 1990 and his family had to move from Kashmir. As a Doctor he only advises people on health issues when asked and otherwise is a successful entrepreneur. His social organization Jammu and Kashmir Reconciliation Front (JKRF) is making waves all over the social world right now.  In this candid interview with Puneet Gupta, you will easily find that Dr. Mawa is not the one to mince his words.

Without further ado, Dr. Sandeep Mawa

How long have you lived in Kashmir after the insurgency?

My family left the valley in October 1990 because my father was shot. Leaving Kashmir was hard for me and I visited shortly after in 1993 albeit only for a month. This was for a vacation as I missed my valley. I was around 16 years of age then. I visited as often as I could. In 2003, I started my business in Karan Nagar, Srinagar wherein I had the exclusive J&K dealership of Fiat cars which I gave up in 2008.

In 2009, I invested into adventure sports, mainly Jet Skis and other watercraft. Further I entered real estate and now I have decided to dedicate all my energies into Social work which is also how JKRF was born.

If you are into business, what about the prefix Doctor?

I did my MBBS from Jammu and was interning in 2003 when an event transpired that left me indignant towards the practices at that hospital*. A certain doctor, who also practiced in the New Plot area in those days, was performing a cataract surgery in the Ophthalmology Department with insoluble stitches and I protested the procedure. The doctor told me that he would explain to me after the surgery.

Later he told me, “This is a new hospital and is running in loss. We can help by not extending the cost by too much. I again questioned, ”How will you help the owners? The poor patient will come back with the same insoluble stitches spending money on the dressing every three days. Why are you making the extra expense a business?”

The episode left a bitter taste in my mouth and I left my internship in the ninth month without completing it. I did not complete my degree for six years and it was only after my mother and wife pushed me in 2009, I went back and completed the remaining three months of internship to get my degree.

Your ‘Hug Me’ idea saw unimaginable success, some would say. What made you start a ‘Hug Campaign’

I got married to my college-sweetheart, who is a Kashmiri Muslim in 2008. In 2013, one of the SSPs* in Srinagar found out about me as my adventure sports business was doing quite well. He found out about my marriage, a Kashmiri Pandit’s marriage to a Kashmiri Muslim girl and came after me with a false FIR of me having beaten a Tehsildar. Fortunately, the Tehsildar was my friend and disqualified the SSPs FIR against me.

The SSP did not stop at that and further slapped charges of me having beaten a Patwari this time and I was arrested for two days. The charges could not be proved by the SSP and I was bailed at 5:30pm in the evening of the second day. This is when it struck me that if harassment like this can happen to someone like me sitting at the apex in Kashmiri society, what must be the people less lucky than me going through?

This is when I decided to enter the social mainstream with JKRF to fight those in the system who do not do their work properly and misuse their powers to harass others. I am 38 and want to see reforms in the society of Jammu and Kashmir. This will be my Jehad. If politics is the way, so be it.

What has been the response of the Kashmiri Pandit community to your campaign so far?

Pandits have been happy because we want to bridge the gap between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs living in Kashmir. The reason why the Hugging Campaign had to be at Lal Chowk for us, is because it is a central point and we had members of all communities come and hug us.

There are those who fight for Kashmiriyat only on television but no one is working on the ground. The religious divides are created by Pandits and Molvis who sadly are only third-grade pass. A hug is a universal message for acceptance and that is why it has been appreciated by one and all.

What are the JKRF’s long-term plans to promote brotherhood in J&K?

I have just finished meeting Mr. Yasin Malik. I will also go to Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mr. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq with the Hug Campaign. Let us unite! If you call us intolerant, I want to see how tolerant you are of us. The JKRF is going to open an office in Jammu as well. We want unity in Jammu and Kashmir and we will be toiling hard to wipe out the animosity that exists here purely for political reasons.

Please elaborate on the idea behind being ‘blindfolded’ for the campaign.

I had initially thought of using black blindfolds but then people here would have thought that this was some protest. This is why we chose white blindfolds. The reason behind the blindfold was, “We cannot see your religion. We only see you as fellow humans.”

Do you think that campaigns such as yours can bring a gradual change in Kashmir?

Our attempt will make a lot of things crystal clear now. We expect reactions to our campaign and sides would now be clearly drawn. This is why I had gone to Yasin Malik. He told me flat that he thinks I am a Delhi Man. I am not a government agent. I am a Kashmiri. The JKRF is not getting any funds to spread this message of humanity. I am doing this from my own pocket. Time will prove to one and all if I am a Delhi-man or if I am a resident of J&K working only towards its reconciliation.

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