In a recently held interaction session organized by Rising Kashmir, academic and author, Dr Nitasha Kaul emphasized on the need of having more and more stories and narratives coming from Kashmir in order to clear the picture of the conflict zone which has been shrouded in the haze of multiple narratives. Fortunately, over the years, a number of young Kashmiri authors have attempted to reflect the true human story of Kashmir, challenging the State-centric discourse.
Walk into a bookstore, and you are drawn to a stack of titles on Kashmir conflict. Though non-Kashmiri writers have authored most of these books, there has been a refreshing change with the residents providing a local perspective of the intractable conflict. Now you can find the likes of Basharat Peer, Mirza Waheed and Shahnaz Bashir alongside Victoria Schofield, Sumantra Bose, Sumit Ganguly and M J Akbar.
The local narrative is important given the prevailing climate of opinion in India about Kashmir. The debate about Kashmir has been conducted primarily by sensational journalism in India. The negative image of Kashmiris among the Indian people receive daily reinforcement from the news media. As a result, to the average Indian newspaper reader, Kashmiris and secessionists have become almost interchangeable terms. In the absence of any contact with real Kashmiris in daily life, many have accepted this kind of image as a substitute.
To put it mildly, Indian media’s coverage of Kashmir conflict has been cursory. And since the news reports reflect a strong bias in favour of the government, Indian public remains ignorant about the true nature of Kashmir issue and the extent of human rights violations in the valley. The mainstream media’s reportage has reinforced sense of alienation among Kashmiris. Objective media coverage of issues in conflict zones is crucial and whenever news reports are one-sided the rights of the affected people are undermined. As a result, rights abuses and unaccountability often go unnoticed, allowing the government and security agencies to get away with their anti-people policies and actions. Media’s over-dependence on official sources has made it vulnerable to manipulation by the government and security agencies alike. The reactive nature of routine reporting is part of the problem as newspapers and news channels report events as they occur. Here comes the importance of books as they can add the crucial dimension of investigation and analysis, and help interpret events and developments in their true historical perspective.
Unfortunately, in the publishing world, some Indian authors have also encouraged a selective amnesia about the past, reinforcing their own prejudices or misinformation about Kashmir. These books have added to the mistrust among the Indians towards Kashmiris. These self-proclaimed exposés reveal words of terrorist intrigue and plots against India. Alongside these instant potboilers are books with a more sober tone yet putting the blame on Pakistan and its Kashmiri sympathizers for the alienation of Kashmiris.
Given the power of media to change the discourse on any subject, it becomes all the more important to cut through the fog of misinformation about the longstanding conflict. Kashmiri writers can offer readers the tools to reach an independent understanding of the subject.
The primary task of Kashmiri authors should be to educate non-Kashmiris about the true face of the conflict so as to evolve a well-informed public consensus for its resolution.
Basharat, Waheed and Shahnaz must have certainly encouraged many young minds to pen their experiences about the conflict so there won’t be any surprise if we have many more books written by Kashmiris on offer in the coming times.
For those who are presently working on their manuscripts, let their work aim to be illustrative and provocative rather than comprehensive or exhaustive. Let their primary aim be to remove the veils of ignorance that have cloaked the subject for so long. Best of luck!