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Updated: August 2, 2013 19:00 IST

Ground Zero

Budhaditya Bhattacharya
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Fahad Shah.
Special Arrangement Fahad Shah.

“Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings from Kashmir” edited by Fahad Shah highlights the different aspects of the Kashmir conflict

“It’s hard to be neutral when your kitchen turns into a battlefield,” writes Showkat Nanda, a news photographer, who while covering a demonstration in Kashmir in the summer of 2010, decided to put his camera aside and walk into the photo he would have clicked. He became a stone thrower.

“I turned into a rebel because I felt that lessons in neutrality and objective journalism sometimes make us so weak that we end up aligning ourselves with falsehood without even knowing,” he explains in his essay The Pain of Being Haunted by Memories, which opens the anthology “Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings from Kashmir”.

Thankfully, the book has no such pretensions to neutrality. Edited by Fahad Shah, founder-editor of the alternative magazine The Kashmir Wallah, it brings together 27 essays on the various aspects of the situation in Kashmir. The essays have been organised into four sections — Memoirs, Resistance, Longing and The Kashmir Walla.

“The idea was to compile the book such that most of the aspects of the Kashmir conflict should be in it. The writers I chose were based around that theme. I wanted a grave digger to write his own story. And the half-widow to say what she felt…We have been doing stories on them, but I wanted them to tell their own story,” Fahad said, at the recent launch of the book in India International Centre.

Apart from these first-person accounts, the book also includes analyses, interviews and reportage. So while M.C. Kash talks about how he became a rapper, Gautam Navlakha, former editorial consultant for The Economic and Political Weekly, looks at the ‘perception management’ exercise underway in the valley and its centrality to the continuing military occupation of the region.

The launch was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by journalist Iftikhar Gilani, between Fahad and Navlakha. David Barsamian, fellow contributor and founder of Alternative Radio, delivered a pre-recorded video message.

Not surprisingly, the idea of journalism was at the heart of the discussion. Introducing the book, Gilani said we are living in a time where Kashmiris have started controlling the narrative. “Narratives of Kashmir used to be dominated by outsiders - foreign writers or those from India and Pakistan. But now you are hearing the stories from the horse’s mouth.”

Much of this has been enabled by the explosion of alternative media. As Fahad writes in the introduction, “Free speech has been crushed. Actually, ‘crushed’ is an understatement; in Kashmir, freedom of speech has been made a crime. The media is gagged. Local cable news channels are banned. Journalists on the ground are barred from reporting the truth, from writing about the killings, the torture, the spate of curfews…Alternate media therefore has had to come to the rescue.” The post-2008 churning, coupled with the frequent curfews, turned the youth inwards, and they started writing. These writings circulated as notes on blogs and on Facebook and Twitter, he added.

The launch ended on an ugly, if predictable, note, as a member of the audience asked aggressively about the representation of Kashmiri Pandits, and accused the editor of tokenism, as also a bias towards the Army. Sanity was restored when another member of the audience drew attention to the title of the book, and asked the questioner how many Pandits feel they live under occupation and how many are waging a resistance.

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