VOICES OF CONFLICT

“Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat!”

If you’ve been closely following the ongoing conflict in Kashmir, it’s difficult to give these words a miss. They are noticeable in newspaper headlines and are voiced intensely in our corridors of power. These are “magic words” of a conflict; a conflict “handcuffed to history”.

This writing, however, does not intend to assay the conflict in Kashmir. It is, for now, beyond my capability to write on a situation so sensitive and replete with political and historical furore. It will take me years of research, readings and writings to have a firm opinion on the Kashmir issue.

The purpose of this writing is to focus on conflict and its unheard voices.

Independent for decades now, India, unfortunately, has a long-standing history of conflict. Most of these conflicts trace their origins to the administrative tumult that appeared in 1947–of integrating the many semi-autonomous princely and non-princely states of the country. A mammoth task indeed, it was successfully achieved through the painstaking efforts of our political leaders and administrative officials. It, however, brought to fore some pertinent questions raised by the citizenry of India:

Are we Indian enough to be a part of India? Shouldn’t we be a part of Pakistan? Or should we be independent and not side either with Pakistan or India? These (unanswered & unaddressed) questions snowballed into armed conflicts, later to be suppressed by the use of even more arms and sometimes draconian laws.

In the conflict that ensued for years (and continues even now in some states), there was bloodshed (on both sides), numerous rapes, countless murders, unconstitutional killings, unending lists of people who miraculously disappeared and everything that qualified as horrifying, played out in these troubled regions.

However, life moved on. Children were born and later raised in conflict. They were either witness to armed clashes or were told ghastly stories of their family’s struggle with conflict. Along with these children were ageing men and women, young boys and girls, teenagers, teachers, students, doctors, farmers, lawyers – all caught in the macabre of conflict.

I was not raised in conflict, fortunately. Brought up largely in urban India, where a mere pothole bump makes me question my nation, I am often surrounded by people who adhere to a certain form of nationalism (nationalism which I don’t wish to define). I am privileged in many ways and have a fine education system, decent medical facilities, net banking, malls, coffee shops and McDonalds, constantly at my disposal. So when this privileged soul was made to travel to two conflicting zones within her country, an eye opener was in the offing.

I travelled to two states that live in the shadows of an extremist law. I travelled not as a tourist, swamped by the excitement of a selfie, but as a researcher, on a trail to study a region’s history, culture and its people. As the travel progressed, there were stories of violence and of course violence again.

These are states abound with natural beauty. The sunrise and sunset in those rolling hills make for a picturesque moment every day. But how can I ignore the silhouettes of armed men in uniforms and the sounds of their trucks? No there is no clash, no there isn’t any protest, these men in uniforms have been here for years now and will continue to ‘guard’ these regions until they are asked to leave by those ruling the roost in New Delhi. Imagine living in such close proximity to weapons. While sipping tea offered by generous villagers, one hears stories of the myriad underground groups and organisations that exist. “ It’s a choice that we all have to make”, says one villager, “ either the underground or the government…it’s difficult, my life and my family’s life…this is a problem that you wont’ understand.”

Yes, I won’t understand. In fact I never understood this conflict. May be I was too busy being pampered by the gifts of capitalism, that have been so lavishly endowed upon me by recent economic developments and initiatives. Or perhaps, I so strictly abide by my definition of nationalism that I overlooked the many ‘other’ definitions of nationalism that emerged as a consequence of these conflicts.

Violence and bloodshed are the two most visible forms of conflict. However, there are a plethora of unseen ones as well.

Conflict shapes personalities, it impacts an individual’s psyche, and influences thought processes. It is a malady that passes on from one generation to another. For those living in conflict, fear lingers on forever and during times of truce and ceasefires, their gory history comes back to haunt them. From this conflict also emanate many voices. These are voices of dissent, distrust, hate, anger, loss and immense pain. These are voices that are unheard and misunderstood. These are voices that won’t go silent even when they are offered employment opportunities, hefty financial packages and shown the benefits of ‘development’ in their region. For those raised in conflict, rich or poor, young and old, material comforts matter less. What is relevant is their history, which is sadly distorted and filled with despair.

Therefore, it’s time to clear the webs of politics, curtail the use of force and control incessant fundings. It’s time to cease manipulating nationalism. It’s time to understand the ‘psyche of conflict’ and address unheard voices.

And all this for the sake of ‘Insaniyat’ and, most importantly,‘Jamhooriyat’.