There are a few reasons why I decided to hold an interactive debate (‘Has gun proven to be the enemy of Kashmir? Will Violence achieve anything?’) in Srinagar two weeks ago.
Some said, that my political views were easy to propagate at platforms like the UN, European Parliament and NATO. At these safe platforms in safe cities in Europe, where freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are guaranteed to a great extent, anyone can say anything. A challenge and a veiled threat which I used to get often was: “Have the guts to say the same things in Srinagar and you will come to know the difference”.
During my quest for peace, I had also come across a lot of like-minded and not so like-minded youngsters living in different places in Kashmir. From my interaction with them, I concluded that the youth, although different in their approach and thinking, is in need of a platform where it could interact, discuss and speak out on political issues. A platform much more tangible than just the anonymous space of social media!
Hence, the idea was born.
Deciding the topic for a debate was not so difficult for me. I wanted a topic which had been the root cause of our sufferings. A topic which was prevalent in drawing rooms and during family dinners. Something which was discussed by everyone in their homes, but remained a taboo in public.
Indeed, The gun and violence.
And there started the paradoxicalities of us Kashmiris. Many of my friends, well-wishers and supporters started advising me against such a bold topic. They agreed on the contents and appreciated the effort, but disagreed on discussing it in public.
“This is Srinagar and not Europe”. “People here have a soft corner for the resistance. “Don’t you see how many join funeral prayers of militants”? “You will get us all in trouble”. “Don’t you care for the fact that your whole family, including your parents, your wife and daughter live in Kashmir”? “The idea of an interactive debate is good, just change the topic to something cultural or something historical. Why are you adamant on discussing the gun”? “Don’t do it. You will regret it”.
I knew that all these advises were well meant. All the people were indeed worried and cared for my and my family’s well-being. But all these advises originated from one single emotion. An emotion, which was the actual reason why such an interactive debate on such a controversial topic in such an unpredictable place like Srinagarshould be held. Fear.
The fear of not being able to say what you want to say. The fear of repercussions. The fear of getting killed. The fear of getting labelled. The fear of getting isolated. The fear to do the right thing when wrong has become the norm. The fear to speak out the truth. The fear that no one will understand reasoning. The fear of fear.
I knew that it was exactly this fear which I was fighting against. It was time to overcome this fear. It has been my firm belief that the moment we will overcome this fear, we will overcome our sufferings and miseries.I wanted to take a small baby-step in providing fear a fearless opponent.
According to me, only to be found through introspection, debate, discussion and evaluation.
Now that the topic was decided and all the well-meant efforts of well-wishers to change it went in vain, it was time to get to the organization of such an event. Organization, which is not the greatest trait of us Kashmiris.
Some people whom I knew personally, were invited by phone and sms. Others were invited by creating an event on Facebook. Two-thirds of the participants were not known personally by me and included youngsters subscribing to different ideologies. Some diametrically opposed to mine. However, that didn’t matter as this was a debate. What would be the fun of having a debate with only like-minded people?
I decided to have a mixed panel of speakers. Some scholars and some youth. A blend of experience and ambition.
The panel consisted of great scholars like Dr.Meraju’d-Din (Vice Chancellor, Central University Kashmir) and Dr. K.N. Pandita(Former Director Centre of Central Asian Studies Kashmir University).They were flanked by youngsters like Sheikh Irfan Gull (A former stone-pelting youth from Kulgamwho is now an aspiring writer) and IqraYousuf (An ordinary young Kashmiri girl currently pursuing her B.Com honors).
The cherry on the cake was of course the Chief Guest of this event, Professor Agha Ashraf Ali. A man, who can be best described as an Institution. Someone who knows and understands Kashmir as no one else does. It took great effort to convince Agha Sahib to attend the event. Most people at 94 in Kashmir or even elsewhere, do not leave the safe havens of their room.
But this man was different. The moment I told him that it was an event organized for the youth of Kashmir, he agreed to come. Something, which took me a while to believe as everyone had said that it would be impossible for me to convince Agha Sahib. Fortunately, the great man was kind to me.
After the speeches of the panellists, the audience had the opportunity to make small comments or ask questions. The moment I would give the microphone to someone in the audience, I would see many people fearing as to what was to come. It proved unnecessary.
Contrary to some people’s fears, the event went off very peaceful. The booking of the hall did not get cancelled by the Hotel. The hall was not empty. There was no violent attack. Nobody threw with ink, boots or water bottles. No disruptions whatsoever.
Despite ideological and methodological differences, everyone remained civilized. There was no shouting, screaming or sloganeering. There was only discussion and debate. At times heated, but cultured throughout. A genuine effort to embark on the difficult path leading to the truth.
It proved my point.
Truth should not fear. Truth instils fear in the heart of fear.
Around 200 people, mostly youth, participated actively in the debate. It was evident from the discussions that there are very different political opinions in Kashmir. Everyone had different questions and different perspectives. Everyone cared for the situation in Kashmir in their own way and through their own prisms.
Encouragingly and most importantly, everyone rejected violence. Everyone agreed that the gun, whoever’s it might have been, has ruined Kashmir and has brought nothing except death and destruction to us.
Thiskind of periodical assessment of a struggle that involves the destiny of an entire community, was rare in a place like Srinagar. It was also long overdue. That the youth of Kashmir, born and brought up in an atmosphere of violence, uncertainty and bleak future, were given a platformto come togetherin the heart of the city, debate and evaluate what the gun has brought to Kashmir at the end of the day, was indeed unique.
It is my ardent wish to continue organizing such events. The youth of Kashmir should be provided alternative means to voice their concerns. They require such platforms were they can come together and just debate.
The idea is to organize such events on district level followed by International level. Such events need to become common in Kashmir. They need to challenge the propaganda of lies which is prevalent. They need to prove that debate is much more powerful than a stone or a gun. Such events should enable us to regain the sanctity of Truth.
My efforts are a humble grooming process and I hope to assist the common Kashmiri youth in such a way that they will become argumentative enough to be able to participate and speak at international platforms like the United Nations, European Parliament, NATO and other forums.
I hope that we can together tell the world about our desire and longing for peace. Our voice has gone unheard for too long. It is time that we take the reins in our own hands and instead of being Anti-India, Anti-Pakistan, Pro-India or Pro-Pakistan, become Pro-Kashmir.
Let’s be selfish. Let’s have one ideology. Not the hollow slogans of Azaadi, Accession or religious Nizaams. Let’s believe in the ideology of ‘Whatever is beneficial for Kashmir’.
And believe me, peace has a proven history of being beneficial to mankind.
A young boy from downtown Srinagar of 17 years old, said the most encouraging words to me during the informal discussions at tea after the event. “Junaid Bhai, I have been to many seminars and rallies and listened patiently for hours. I always felt angry afterwards. But today, I as a common young Kashmiri youth was given the opportunity to speak for the first time and it felt as if I had regained my voice. I felt liberated. It lifted the fear in me”.
Everyone in Kashmir knows it. Everyone thinks it. Everyone feels it. Everyone says it in the safe environments of their homes among friends and families while having dinner or enjoying our favourite nun-chai.
And now it has been said fearlessly in the open: “The emperor has no clothes”.