Srinagar, Jan 01-15|16:
Shrinking social spaces and curtailed freedom of expression in the conflict-ridden Kashmir came under sharp focus from experts in Srinagar when an anthology, ‘Breaking Mazes’, was released. The book, ‘Breaking Mazes’, is a unique effort by the local youth in Srinagar to reclaim lost social spaces by organizing public debates on contentious issues over a cup of kehwa, a local hot drink. “With the eruption of militancy in Kashmir in 1990s, followed by military response to suppress the armed uprising against Indian rule, life in Kashmir came to a halt. This led to the loss of spaces for open intellectual and social interaction,” said Peer Ghulam Nabi Suhail, head CRPD and organizer of ‘KehwaTalks’, a public discourse on contemporary topics. Mr. Suhail claimed ma- ny schools, colleges, libraries and other centers of learning were burnt down in the last 25 years. “This led to closure of the spaces — spaces of intellectual discussion, spaces of interaction, spaces of knowledge exchange and the space of intro spection and reflection on the issues and happenings in our surroundings. “KehwaTalks is an initiative in the same vein to reclaim social space by engaging civil society actors, academicians, scholars and students, writers, entrepreneurs, and people from other walks of life for critical discussion, knowledge exchange and networking.” While releasing the book, an eminent panel of academician and former vice-chancellor Siddiq Wahid Radhu; associate professor, International Relations, University of Westminster, Dibyesh Anand; journalist Riyaz Masoor, IAS topper Shah Faesal, civil society activist and eminent businessman Shakeel Qalander debated on the topic ‘Loss of Social Spaces: Self Censorship or State Control’.
“Kashmir is unique a place where democracy is used to control the people and is used as a tool to deny human rights There is a degree of state control but also prevalent bureaucratisation of spaces like universities where, many a times, teachers not real academicians scuttles space of expression for personal reasons. I have faced a lot of pressure not to talk on many issues in the State’s universities,” said Mr. Anand.
Prof Wahid warned against not allowing students politics a college levels. “There are students union in Leh and Jammu and the same is not allowed in Kashmir. So whenever there is oppression, it gives rise to resistance, which flows like water and level itself. Many see guns as a mode of resistance too in such a situation.”
Qalander traced shrinking of genuine political spaces to 1931. “Since 1931, the freedom of expression was controlled by the government. But we have to learn to create spaces within the limitations and function in the situation prevalent…I am aware that no space to agitate over gruesome killings are allowed in the State,” said Mr. Qalander.
IAS topper Faisal, however, defended the State’s urgency to curtail spaces. “Sometimes the State has to put curbs to avoid the law and order problems. And it has paid in good sense. However, there seems complete breakdown of dialogue between secular and non-secular with the masses. Otherwise, a good degree of freedom is allowed by the State to the elite and political class.”
However, on the other hand, Masroor described the conflict in Kashmir as “one where State’s ideology is pitted against truth of people”. “The State tries delegitimize all genuine social spaces in Kashmir by patronizing music, art and sports etc.”