Thursday, August 16, 2012


Kashmir is one of those places on the map that is not filled in with a solid color, but instead, covered with angled parallel lines indicative of a special case. Like many parts of the Muslim world, it is often grouped in with the Middle East in academia and the media, and is given minimal, sporadic coverage, overshadowed by more gripping reports from countries in transition. So I follow the news from back home on Facebook, to glean an understanding of when tensions are erupting. I can tell based on whether my sixteen-year old cousin’s status update is a stream of transliterated Kashmiri freedom slogans, or an invitation to rate how cute she is.

kashmir butterfly map
I am closer to my family than ever before because of the popularity of Facebook in Kashmir, but I know I am not alone (I know through investigative journalism that at least one other person feels this way), in my initial discomfort with some of the graphic images and links that I have been tagged in over the years, relating to the Kashmir conflict. At some point in the early trajectory of my Facebook years, “tagging” went from being a way to identify when someone is in a picture, to being a way to insinuate that someone you are friends with has something to-do-with that picture. This has been tricky to navigate, because I try to keep my internet identity as light-hearted as possible, but also felt that since I was dedicating all of my time and energy into learning and writing about the Middle East instead of Kashmir, the least I could do was stay hyperlinked to gruesome images of police brutality and mothers grabbing at their faces in horror and overwhelming grief. As we migrate towards our impending fate of eventually existing entirely online, we have stumbled on a new form of non-violent protest at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection. Alongside the stifling weight of state censorship across the Muslim world, to un-tag myself would constitute its own form of censorship, because these are the facts on the ground, even if the images make me wince and are not as delicately stated as my embroidered Kashmir map, shaded accordingly to indicate disputed territory. 

Enmeshed in a complex politics of identity and belonging, the valley in question is nestled between two fiercely stubborn and competitive nations that both lay claim to the territory. Any outside actors that have expressed a desire to support a peaceful resolution between Pakistan and India seem to be waiting to bring it up until everyone is in a good mood, or until the situation becomes categorized as a threat. As an interested party, at the mention of the continually evolving turmoil in Pakistan, I am met with that sinking feeling that we are inexorably caught in the mess of our nuclear neighbor to the west. I do my piece as an informed person and skim the news reports, and then indulge in the best part of any news article on Kashmir- the comments section. This tail-end gem is active not only for analytic pieces, but also for reports and general statements of what the author assumes is fact. Reactions are passionate, often in all caps. They range from hilarious to hateful, mostly from people that are emotionally connected to the region, and the intermittent Dan or Mike who think it was a really well-balanced article. This is likely why I find it really difficult to write about Kashmiris at all, and any attempt at it usually ends up being about my mother, or about goats. Not many people are informed about the conflict, and misrepresentation understandably increases frustration. For those who construct their own identity around Kashmir and the words used to describe it, contesting authoritative interpretations and giving voice to one’s own version of things is a form of protest. And everyone knows that the best place to vent frustrations on things is any sort of comment section on the internet.

In my forthcoming foray into journalistic writing (my poems now come in the form of embroidered creatures), I want to know what people believe about their own set of circumstances. Because this is what we act on. And when enough people believe in the same thing, sometimes there is a chance for things to move forward. Have we not been inspired by the Arab Spring? If we set aside any understanding we might have of the complexities of the events and resulting circumstances for the many countries involved in what falls under this romantic umbrella term, is it not an inspiring thought? So enchanting, and with so much room for weather metaphors. It makes one think of morning dew, summer rain and a handy umbrella, all at once.
Kashmiris are an inspired people. In the face of limited freedom of speech and biased media reporting, the new generation of the Kashmiri disenchanted is following in the dewy footsteps of their Arab neighbors by using creative modes of resistance to air their grievances.
This feels like a fertile place to start from. Warm like the belly of a goat.

1 comment:

Jess Rehearsal said...

The FBook misses you. At least I do!