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  • Writer's pictureRidhima Agarwal

Strengthening roots, Nurturing sovereignty

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Parindey : Lubna Rafiqi

Alivelihood: Community work & Social Enterprise

Region: Watlar, Kashmir

“Let the rage within guide you towards self-knowledge."

- Lubna Rafiqi

Lubna Rafiqi (Photo: Ridhima Agarwal)

What kind of relationship do we share with our surroundings? How do we organise the basic unit of self, family, and community? What are the core values of education? How can we build a self-sustainable and just lifestyle system around us? What is conscious living? Lubna Rafiqi provides deep insights and her lived experience growing up in a closed-knit religious, conflicted and patriarchal society. The rage she went through began the inevitable journey of self-knowledge.

In Kashmir, youth growing up in a fragile environment is one of the most vulnerable groups with unsupportive emotional growth, lack of direction, uncertain educational policies, and a non-participatory system. Lubna claims that the people here grow with subconscious fear and suppression of self-expression. This gets translated into the need for security and compromise on the youth's potential. Secondly, the land in Kashmir is one of the richest sources of livelihood with apt climatic conditions for growing food and medicinal plants and other forms of farming. With growing unemployment, migration and uncertainty over the basic security of education and family, it was necessary for them to go back to their own locally available resources, traditional knowledge systems of house building, cooking, recycling, natural living, and holistic education designed relevant to the Kashmiri context. And create a space where the community can come together to work on varied aspects of health, culture, economy, and education.

In 2010, at the crossroads of the struggle between a growing need for traditional rootedness, identity formation, and modern sensibility, a group of people came together to attempt to understand and identify the needs and aspirations of the youth in Kashmir and other conflict-ridden areas. Lubna became a part of this group, and an extensive survey-based study was undertaken on lived experiences of youth and education patterns in Ladakh, Kashmir, and Jammu. After a year, it was realised that everyone seeks a few universal values of equality, participation and inclusivity. Realising an urgent need to work on them under a collective, ‘Mool Sustainability Research and Training Centre’ was established in 2012. The term Mool means root, the core of everything or the origin of something. As the term implies, Mool alleviated the unrest and uprootedness amid modern Kashmir's worst years of conflict between 2005 and 2018. The participatory socio-economic action followed by Mool inspires and enables youth to develop resource-based, environmentally friendly, and regenerative lifestyles.

Born and brought up in Srinagar, Lubna grew up like any other Kashmir woman. With a strong sense of identity in her land, she enrolled herself in a bachelor's in psychology at Kashmir University. "The moment I became aware of nature and my surroundings, the feeling of doing something was very clear. Something was coming out of the universe, and I asked myself what I was doing. What are we all doing? And that brought about rage in me, which was the beginning of all things."

Lubna singing traditional songs during a cultural concert at Sagg (Photo: Ridhima Agarwal)

After completing her master's in psychology, she travelled to understand the world better. She gave a lecture series on ‘Identity and Region’ in Germany in 2015, surveyed ‘Youth Education in Kashmir’ in 2016, studied ‘Women and Conflict’ in Scotland in 2019, and researched ‘Conflict and Youth’ in London as a Commonwealth Fellow in 2020. Later she came back to Kashmir to work on the actualisation of her vision. Mool provided a collaborative space for people to come and intervene in education policies. This is done through counselling, discussions on self-development, and channelising the aspirations of Kashmiri youth into actual sustainable models of entrepreneurship and lifestyle beyond the conflictual reality of Kashmir.

Addressing a gathering of women’s college students on bio-farming under Mool (Photo: Ridhima Agarwal)

Lubna realised that although Mool held strong values and successfully organised youth, as an NGO it had its limitations. She states, "And we can't possibly talk about sustainability without being truly sustainable ourselves. From here arose the need for an innovative, natural, and truly sustainable model for community work."

A business using natural laws – Eco village and ecopreneurship

Roots (mool) need water, i.e., nourishing to grow. Lubna, with her team, navigating through and understanding the realities of Kashmir and a strong intention to work on education and lifestyle, set up the foundation for Sagg. Saggdiyun is a Kashmiri word – sagg is to 'nurture' and diyun is to 'give'. Now known as ‘Sagg Eco Village’, the first stone of the eco-village was set up in 2016 by local people in the foothills of Sindh, Watlar region in rural Kashmir. According to Lubna, 'land is the richest resource for livelihood'. And begin the work of creating a truly organic, diverse, and self-sustainable space.

Mukhtar bhai, caretaker of farms in Sagg (Photo: Ridhima Agarwal)

Lubna and her team started farming on the land and eventually began processing the output. Based on natural resources available, with time, eco huts called 'Kothe' (mud house in Kashmiri), a restaurant and a processing unit were established in 2017 to create a holistic chain of production and consumption around the basic needs of life. Forming a business model based on the natural activity of the campus gave the idea of ecopreneurship or basing the business models on ecological preservation in the surroundings and creating livelihood through it. The development of Sagg through time has been exceptional and transformed the lives of locals working here.

Campus café and the traditional mud roofs ‘kothe’ (Photos: Ridhima Agarwal)

Sagg is realising the vision which Mool has set in its forming. It is done through a diverse means of socio-economic-cultural practices whose core is the 'individual'. Believing that mother and father are the first and primary units of learning for us, Mouj Baap Sufficiency School is set up where educational camps for kids in 2016, Friday learning schools, workshops, and counselling provide an environment for exploring the self. Exploring diverse methodologies for learning, cultural events, trekking and eco-tours are designed for interacting with the ecosystem and our body and mind. “As there is a physical body and a soul that cannot be seen, but to live, we have to find a connection through both. Similarly, the space of Sagg is a physical manifestation but the people here are the soul through which things get alive and function. Our aim is to build that soul connection." All products, services and programmes of Sagg are value-based. The founder of Sagg, Fayaz Ahmed, who is also Lubna's husband now, believes that the journey began even before they were born, stating that Sagg is an extension of ourselves and our love for our people.

Apple farming and various products from farm produce like pickles and jams (Photos: Ridhima Agarwal)

While activism has taken a limited understanding, the initiative of Sagg lets us reimagine community building and intervention from a fresh perspective. This means balancing the traditional with the modern, redefining lifestyle choices, and using the available structures to realise ecological and social development. And in the long run, they aim to consolidate the learnings and share this unique socio-economic model with the world to reimagine lifestyle practices, holistic education, cultural preservation, ecological safeguarding, community building and sustainability through natural and conscious living. Lubna states the challenges of working in a region like Kashmir, which constantly goes through scrutiny and uncertainty. One must be very strict to ensure safety and balance it with openness to outside elements. She also aims to reach more youth in Kashmir and strengthen the revenue model of Sagg for a stronger functioning and expansion of her work in areas of Kashmir.

De-stress-heal-regenerate (entry to Sagg), Values board (Photos: Ridhima Agarwal)

Although stating the external challenges, she lays the highest importance on working on the inner self. Lubna talks of Sagg therapy, providing therapy to anyone who visits here by simply being, experiencing and connecting to oneself. Sagg, through her vision, is practising building an integrative and regenerative community living through ecological entrepreneurship. Sagg, for her, is a conscious element, a possibility of creation through self, of transcendence, and of development in the Kashmiri community in a truly sovereign sense. In Islam, it is said that human is the best of all creation of Allah, referred to as Ashraf ul makhluqat, one of that creation Lubna, through her journey of self-knowledge created this possibility of change and of nurturing our roots again.

Lubna Rafiqi can be reached at:

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