He explained to a
The contrasting reactions to Fai’s transgressions are a good reminder of how divisive the
Rarely have I attended such an impassioned event. Mirza Waheed, author of The Collaborator and former
Ashis Ray, a Times of India journalist, challenged Waheed’s depiction of Indian excesses and took issue with the use of the word ‘occupation’ to describe Indian presence in
gasp-inducing moment, he dismissed the deaths of peaceful Kashmiri protesters as ‘collateral damage’. Between these diametrically opposed views lay the perspectives of other panelists, Al Jazeera correspondent Imran Khan, former Times reporter Subhash Chopra and SOAS lecturer Lawrence Sáez.
It was evident through the discussion that one person’s truth was another person’s myth; one’s experience, another’s propaganda. Participants were unable to agree on historical timelines, the voter turnout at particular elections, the frequency of rape of Kashmiri women, and almost everything else. Disputations over the most basic facts — for example, the number of Indian troops present in the valley — seemed surreal among a panel of journalists and writers affiliated with reputed international publications.
The he-said, she-said tenor of the discussion re-emphasised just how well-entrenched state-created narratives about the
More importantly, on both sides of the border, the
In this context, the panel’s response to one question from the audience surprised me. When a young woman asked what role Pakistani and Indian civil society can play to help facilitate a resolution to the Kashmir dispute, all the discussants mumbled responses about the first responsibility lying with armies, governments, international arbitrators, Kashmiri political parties and, of course, Kashmiris themselves.
On this point, I disagree. Civil society in both
Civil society actors can address this rhetorical anomaly by raising simple questions in order to re-articulate old narratives in light of present Kashmiri desires. In an age of online social networking, wiki-media and other interactive platforms, there’s no excuse for publics not to communicate and develop nuanced and multifaceted — rather than contradictory — interpretations. By circulating in cyberspace and independent media, these fresher narratives can start to re-centre foreign policy. A grass-roots approach to changing the thinking on
More importantly, civil society actors can add the most important missing element to the equation: the Kashmiri voice. As Waheed stressed in his comments, Kashmiris are starting to document their own version of events — in novels, memoirs, verse, blog posts, tweets, radio shows and more. It is incumbent on Pakistani and Indian publics to consume, translate and debate output from the valley so as to better align national narratives with the actual experience and desires of Kashmiris.
By acknowledging and amplifying the Kashmiri perspective in the South Asian public sphere, civil society can help reconfigure the dispute as a trilateral, rather than bilateral affair. After all, any successful resolution to the
The writer is a freelance journalist.