I am not sending you to Kashmir. As a recent college graduate, I had no other choice but to turn to my parents for an allowance. Three months in Srinagar would cost me considerably lesser than it did to live in State College, Pennsylvania, but I hadnt saved up enough to be able to afford an airplane ticket. My mothers instantaneous reaction to the news was swift and unyielding. Do you want to get yourself radicalized or killed? Have you no shame in asking us to let you go there, when we have invested so much in you?
I wondered where this reaction came from. What is it about me deciding to work at a newspaper, mainly on desk writing articles, that makes my mother assume I may never return? Her hostility towards the state and my intention to work there only deepened my inquisitiveness towards Kashmir. While I wished to go there with the sole purpose of hearing the other side of the narrative, those around me assumed I was wishing to sacrifice myself in an act of youthful exuberance. It is hard to say that such a reaction from an Indian parent is completely unwarranted, but what bothers me as a person with a conscience, is that their justifications for outrage are based on sensationalized news, and a propagandist narrative.
Once I received word from Kashmir Observer that theyd allow me to come work for them, I felt as sense of fulfillment that a degree in Political Science has enabled me to find a challenging assignment. I did not come here as a reckless journo looking for a story in a conflict zone. Neither do I have any inclination towards putting my life in danger. I came here to understand Kashmiriyat, which I am told is the one quintessential element missing from the debate surrounding the region. What is the end result the Kashmiris expect? Do they deserve the right to self-determination? If these questions are not addressed during discussions regarding the Kashmir issue, then any dialogue is redundant. My intention, is to bring this dialogue to the table. More youth in Indian schools and universities need to enlighten themselves to the plight of the Kashmiris, and seek to be correctly informed and educated to the issue.
I noticed varying reactions from people whom I told about my intentions of working in Srinagar. Dude youre going to be this generations Hunter S. Thompson! exclaimed a friend of mine. There was a general sense of excitement among my classmates and my closest friends. This is incredibly encouraging. This showed to me, that at least the people I surround myself with are open towards discussing Kashmir, and not treating the issue with caution or hostility. The reaction from individuals in the United States was similar, though it was met with a certain degree of concern. Are you sure its safe? was the most common question I received. I was glad many of my fellow students at Penn State were aware of the Kashmir issue. Even the faculty of my college urged me to seek methods of improving the quality of dialogue and debate surrounding the region. This is something I am determined to do, and will strive towards getting this conversation started in our country from an unbiased, neutral and educated perspective.
I sadly didnt receive the same sort of appreciation from those who we label as our elders in India. An uncle persisted that I take a bodyguard with me for the duration of my work there. Another insisted that I contact his friend, a high ranking police official in the city, who would enquire frequently about how Im doing and keep a tab of my whereabouts in the state. People have openly expressed to me how they think I am subjugating myself to a conflict zone, and sympathizing with militants, simply by working at a local newspaper. Why do they arrive to such conclusions? An argument can be made that these individuals have grown up during some of the most conflict laid periods of Kashmir, and Indias history. The Kargil war, and unending unrest in the state, have produced some of the most polarized and ultranationalist news networks, that are known to produce heated stories with belligerent tone to this day. It doesnt take a genius to notice how certain Indian media outlets continue to brandish Kashmir as a terrorist and a failed state. How then will this perception change, if people continue to feed lies and venom to the Indian consensus?
The saving grace from the overall façade of the Indian media is the fact that the nations youth is questioning these forms of rhetoric. They think critically, and then use their own judgment before subscribing to the opinions of any form of polarized media. This sort of thinking is what India, Kashmir and all other parties involved in this issue need to capitalize on. We cannot depend anymore on outdated, ancient and almost archaic approaches, used by the center in the past, to find a resolution for the state. The youth of India and the youth of Kashmir have to sit down as equals, and with an open mind, to hear each others grievances.
In the period I will be in here, I seek to be taught about what the Kashmiris desire. Ive come here with a blank slate, with the only prior intention in mind of how I can present my findings and observations to the rest of the world. If I can be compelled to speak for the Kashmiris and work towards their equal representation, I will use every resource at my disposal to bring forth their cause. It isnt everyday that a boy from Mumbai is compelled to move to Kashmir to learn how a newspaper functions. It just so happens to be that the newspaper is in a state that is desperately looking for a voice. Even if I can make someone question their preexisting notions about the state, I know my three months here will not have gone in vain.
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