In strife-torn Kashmir, writings on downed shutters provide way of gauging public mood

Calling Kashmir a “steep learning curve”, Navnita Chadha Behera said on her last visit there, she gauged the mood by by observing the downed shutters.

PTI January 14, 2018 17:19:50 IST
In strife-torn Kashmir, writings on downed shutters provide way of gauging public mood

New Delhi: The writing is not just on the wall — but also on the downed shutters of Kashmir.

Political scientist Navnita Chadha Behera, with over 25 years of work on the troubled region, believes that to decode Kashmir, you have to start your research afresh every time you are there.

Calling the troubled state a “steep learning curve”, Behera said on her last visit there, she gauged the mood by by observing the downed shutters in the Valley.

“During my last visit, I decided to just walk around and take pictures of shut-down shutters. And I learnt a lot. What most captured the spirit was the contesting narrative written on these shutters," she said.

In strifetorn Kashmir writings on downed shutters provide way of gauging public mood

Representational image. PTI

On one downed shutter, for instance, Behera said she would find a slogan such as "Free India".

"But overnight, in another ink, it would be turned into ‘Free Kashmir from stone pelters’. Next day, 'stone pelter' would be cut out with a different ink and the slogan would change to ‘Free Kashmir from India’ or ‘Go Back India’," she said.

And then the slogan "Go back India" would turn into "Good India", said the academic at the recent book launch of ‘Kashmir: History, Politics, Representation’ at the India International Centre.

Behera noted that there was a dire need for new social science tools to understand and create knowledge on strife-torn Kashmir.

“Complexities are second nature to Kashmir. But social scientists, that includes me too, have failed to understand them. We need to engage in a very robust manner with anthropologists, sociologists, historians and with the people on the ground to come up with new voices and new knowledge on Kashmir,” she added.

But then that is not the only tribe to have failed Kashmir, said journalist Siddharth Vardarajan, who was also a panelist in the discussion.

The media, especially television channels, had altered the national discourse on Kashmir in an “atrocious” way, said the founder of The Wire, a news portal.

“The systematic humiliation on the part of these anchors and channels of any Kashmiri voice that is not in tune with the thinking of the hyper-nationalist or the pseudo-nationalist, I think, has poisoned the atmosphere," he said.

Published by Cambridge University Press, the book edited by Chitralekha Zutshi is a collection of 14 essays on multiple aspects of Kashmir.

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