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Harud: Season of Despondency And Loss

By Dr. Nyla Ali Khan

31 August, 2011

Is the Kashmir conundrum a political issue? Yes! Does the Kashmir conflict need to be resolved politically? Yes! Have the people of Kashmir suffered immeasurable losses and been unbearably traumatized, particularly over the past two decades? Yes! Have the people of Kashmir been displaced, disenfranchised, and dispossessed? Yes! Can the rivulets of blood and the loss of innocent lives in Kashmir be forgotten and relegated to the background? No! Does the holding of assembly elections and empowerment of panchayats signal the return of normalcy? No! Does the holding of a literary and cultural festival in Kashmir assume that Kashmir is an integral part of India and has reconciled to the status quo? No!

Kashmiris, of various hues and shades, either haven't had the gumption to tell their stories, or haven't found people willing to listen to their stories without prejudging them. Dominant discourses within which stories about Kashmir could be woven and told have been legitimized either by the right or the left, and the Kashmiri willing to assert agency by charting her/ his own course without recourse to either the right wing version of the Kashmir narrative or the left wing version hasn't found a sympathetic ear. After all, doesn't an assertion of agency entail the an orientation toward the future, as a capacity to imagine alternative possibilities? Haven't Kashmiris been trying to assert their agency by attempting to navigate the undulating, often impenetrable terrain of formal powers of political structure? We, as a people, have been trying to speak truth to power by employing not just traditional scholarship but oral historiography as well. Perhaps, some of us have elevated the “authenticity” of lived experience above discourse, but the truth is that our lived experience cannot evade the exigencies of history; our lived experience cannot evade the realism of law, against the limits of which Kashmiris have been protesting for a long time.

Does the poignancy of the lives of Kashmiris require expression? Has Kashmir been violated by unwieldy political and social structural violence? Are there people in Kashmir who have continued to live with an unparalleled stoicism in the strife-torn Valley through years of unbearable hostility and the psychological trauma of armed conflict? Are there Kashmiris who had to leave their abodes overnight without a thought for the material assets they would be leaving behind? Does the pain of dispossession and a lost heritage still haunt them?

But the lacerations caused by insurgency, counter insurgency, the unaccountability of the security forces, and brutalization of the sociocultural ethos of Kashmir does not mean that we glamourize moments of “isolationist admiration.” It is important to guard against discourses that underscore unthinking celebrations of oppression by delegitimizing forums at which people can express themselves. The unequivocal condemnation of such forums, like the Harud Literary and Cultural Festival, that was going to be held in Srinagar, Kashmir, in September of this year, creates an impediment to analyses and readings that attempt to look beyond obvious questions of good and evil. Is the condemnation of the Harud festival, which has now been cancelled, by a group of academics, none of whom lives in Kashmir, an attempt to objectify the Kashmiri subject? You've got to give the Kashmiri electorate more credit than that! After all, there is no monolithic political and sociocultural discourse on Kashmir that can claim to have absolute legitimacy. I have always viewed Kashmir as a palimpsest on which there are several overlapping discourses, most of which have valid historical and theoretical contexts. Giving budding writers, poets, and theorists from Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh a chance to express their points of views in their native languages as well as in the lingua franca, English, would have been a good opportunity for people who do not have the wherewithal to travel, or do not get passports and visas to go to international conferences. The politically powerful, culturally informed, and historically grounded voices of our regional writers do not get to travel and transmit their work the way they ought to. Our regional writers are very well aware of the crucial cultural issues that need to be foregrounded. Is the opposition of some academics and intellectuals to the Harud festival a belligerent move that romanticizes the isolation that has conscripted Kashmir for a long time? A conference on art and literature, particularly in a conflict zone, cannot be “apolitical,” despite what the “mission statement” of the conference might say. Art, literature, and culture have been the media through which political ideologies have been meaningfully expressed. Kashmiri literature and art are informed by the glaring violation of fundamental rights in that region. The literary and cultural work in Kashmir is rich, some of which is informed by the narrative of plebiscite, some of it is informed by the narrative of autonomy, some of it is informed by the narrative of a unique Kashmiri subjectivity, and most of it is informed by a deeply ingrained sense of loss. Students at the University of Kashmir are bright, expressive, and politically informed young people, who are capable of articulating their arguments at forums. I have organized a couple of lectures at the University of Kashmir at which some students have intelligently expressed their opposition to the dominant discourse. How do people formulate their political ideologies? By participating in dialogue, discussion, and by agreeing to disagree. The opposition to the Harud Literary festival is just one more example of silencing, this time regional writers and intellectuals are being silenced by writers and intellectuals in the North American academy. I think the Harud festival would have provided an opportunity to budding Kashmiri writers, poets, theorists, and thinkers to express themselves, and to form meaningful alliances with writers, poets, theorists, and thinkers from Jammu and Ladakh.

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan , Visiting Professor, Department of English University of Oklahoma




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