A Report on the Study Circle on Kashmir Organized in Kolkata

September 8, 2016

People’s Film Collective organised a two-day long study circle on the Kashmir Conflict recently in Kolkata. Though, it was not free from initial and usual hiccups, but as we went ahead and finally had an intensely engaging and enlivening two days together with around 110 participants and two teachers. We learned together about the long and arduous history of a freedom movement, moments and phases of despair and complexities, the brutalisation as well as the resilience that is Kashmir. We also made multiple connections in space and time and tried to understand the situation in Kashmir as a moment of possibilities amidst the mayhem, and what might lie ahead in the future.

Teachers for the study circle were Sanjay Kak and Parvaiz Bukhari, both Kashmiris. Sanjay is an well known documentary film-maker and writer based in New Delhi. Parvaiz is a senior independent journalist and writer from Kashmir, whose articles have appeared in major south-Asian newspapers, journals and magazines. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for giving it their all for the two days, and patiently helping us listen and empathise and learn, teaching us to have difficult conversations even in areas where we have been deeply conditioned to evade and not to directly engage.

They took us through a series of six lectures and two round-table interactive sessions.

The lectures walked us through the present moment in Kashmir, the ground-level scenario post the encounter of Burhan Wani followed by a mass civilian uprising, killings of seventy civilians maiming and blinding of thousands and the situation (still) unfolding thereafter. We asked, how to read the present moment and where is this headed?

The speakers laid out a brief political history of Kashmir from pre-Dogra times, the Dogra period, Kashmir in colonial times, period of Sheikh Abdulla, the year 1931 and significance of Martyr’s Day, peasant uprisings & organised movements in Kashmir, land reforms in Kashmir. We learnt about the untold and erased histories of the Jammu massacre and Poonch uprisings, the erosion of autonomy, elections and successive elected governments in Kashmir, the election of 1987, the turbulent nineties, period of Maqbool Bhat, the years 2008-2010, the trajectory post-2010, the function of the Kashmiri ruling class vis-à-vis the ruling class in New Delhi.

We discussed the question of Kashmiri Pandits which was a monumental tragedy of the nineties, in the context of the overall political history of Kashmir and how the mass dislocation was later used differently to divide the Kashmiri society and also to silence people supportive of the aspirations of Kashmiris at large.

The lectures walked us through a socio-cultural history of Kashmir, with an eye on the contemporary. We discussed spiritual and political notions and roots of faiths (or the lack of it) in Kashmir, demographics and ethnic communities, poetry art and cultural expression as resistance in Kashmir. We navigated through major recent writings and conflict literature (fiction, non-fiction, history, memoirs, oral history and essays) emerging from Kashmir. We looked at representations of Kashmir in Indian media, films, art and literature.

On the second day, we went through an account of militarisation and violence in Kashmir. We learnt how militarisation operates structurally much beyond bullets pellets, massacres and the visible oppression and how it penetrates into the very fabric of the society, holding a whole people and their political, social and even personal aspirations captive to manipulations by a well-coordinated military apparatus. We learned about the political economy of counter insurgency and the political economy and mind-boggling interference in things as apparently beingn as even the amarnath yatra. An overview of all comprehensive reports and accounts by civil society groups, rights groups and international tribunals on arbitrary detentions, crackdowns, disappearances and custodial torture (“Buried Evidence”, “Alleged Perpetrators”, “Half Widow, Half Wife”, “The Lawless Law”, “Denied” etc) also helped discussion on AFSPA, PSA, banning of student unions, clampdowns and curfews and everyday lived lives.

We learned about the Ikhwanis – the extra-judicial militia popped up in the nineties, the most rotten and diabolic force that tore the society into shreds through vicious crooked fratricide. We learned of weapons and methods used against militants and civilians, civil liberties and democratic rights, accounts of sexual violence on women and men, the Kafkaesque state in its executive judicial and legislative functions, psychological warfare, long term impacts on human lives, strategies of coping and collectivising individual losses, the stone pelters.

The question of self-determination & the political movement was discussed in all its details as a core question to understand the Kashmir Conflict, in the full context of the above. We discussed the people’s aspirations and future possibilities in the context of lessons from the past throughout the world, and if it was genuinely possible to imagine Kashmir in a radically different manner altogether.

In the two film-sessions, we watched two documentaries, Jashn-e-Azadi and Khoon Diy Baarav. As someone said, the word ‘shahid’ has a dual meaning – to be a martyr and to be a witness; the films unravelled before us what words could not.

Participants of the study circle comprised of students, activists, teachers, researchers, journalists, lawyers, writers, and from several fields of work. It was heartening to see how intensely they all engaged in the study and probed and questioned freely the dominant hegemonic discourse on Kashmir. Many wanted similar study circles on other issues, and there was unanimous interest in carrying the discussion on Kashmir forward, and collectively, in the days and months and years to come.

The venue had an exhibition of prints of paintings and works on the Kashmir conflict, by Rollie Mukherjee. It also carried a selection of ten poems by two generations of Kashmiri poets and writers.