Like truth, another casualty in a conflict zone is trust. In an atmosphere of mistrust, doing anything substantial or not doing anything at all comes under scrutiny. There is a crisis of acknowledgment. More distrust, less appreciation. More conspiracy theories, less and less facts. Often perceptions are analysed and commented upon while objective facts are either ignored or not considered seriously. Unfortunately, in conflict-hit places like Kashmir, the culture of celebrating success of individuals, groups or organisations is generally conspicuous by its absence.
That said, for the last two years, Kehwa Talk under the auspices of Centre for Research and Development Policy (CRDP) has continued to produce a body of work, held seminars on burning issues, organised expert talks on vital themes that matter in both regional and global context, and also published a book and organised events and photo exhibitions.
Without fail, it has invited international relations specialists, political scientists, religious scholars, professionals from various fields, psychiatrists, satirists, humourists, artists, musicians, and legal luminaries to deliver talks on their subject areas.
The main objective of Kehwa Talk was to reclaim the lost social spaces in the Kashmir Valley so that people from different walks of life and subject experts could discuss and deliberate on important issues that matter lives, livelihood, economy, and psychological and intellectual health of Kashmir society, in particular, and the larger world, in general.
When Dr. Suhail Masoodi floated this idea two autumns ago, there were many doubters and very few takers. But those who appreciated the idea, believed and saw merit in it were enthusiastic about its success, longevity and sustainability as well. After several intense rounds of brainstorming sessions, the idea was being executed on the ground in the absence of adequate financial support. Modest contributions from friends, acquaintances and supporters of the idea have kept Kehwa Talks going for the last 24 months though.
Is Kehwa Talks a success story?
Yes, in terms of longevity, sustainability and the quality of work it has produced. But could it have done a little more? Definitely, yes.
Kehwa Talks is a work in progress. It is indeed a success story, but there is a lot of room for improvement too. Satisfaction, they say, is the death of desire.
Many had doubts about longevity of Kehwa Talks. Others were of the view that it was not pragmatic. But two years hence, even some detractors have now acknowledged that Kehwa Talks has created a separate niche for itself.
In December 2014, Kehwa Talks organised its first session by inviting renowned journalist-commentator Sankarshan Thakur, roving editor The Telegraph who delivered a talk on conflict reporting. The next session was arranged on Language and Identity in which Kashmir's well-known humourist-poet Zareef Ahmad Zareef, columnist Aijaz-ul-Haq and Dr. Aziz Hajini were the main speakers.
In the third session, Dr. Dibyesh Anand, Head of Department of Politics and International Relations at London's University of Westminster, delivered a talk on Religious Nationalisms and Territorial Disputes Between China and India, and The Politics of Identity.
Subsequently, Kehwa Talks continued its efforts to coordinate sessions on important themes like the psychological toll of the Kashmir conflict in which the valley's leading psychiatrists, Dr. Mushtaq Margoob and Dr. Arshad Hussain, spoke in intense detail.
Parveena Ahanger, Kashmir's 'Iron Lady' whose son, Javed, was picked up by the government forces in January 1990, also shed light on her struggle for those families whose sons or relatives were enforced to custodial disappearances since 1989.
Besides, a special series of lectures was also organised on 'Gradual Erosion of Constitutional Status of Jammu and Kashmir' in which the US-based Kashmiri academic Dr. Nyla Ali Khan presented a paper while the Valley based political scientist, Prof. Gull Wani, and the author of this review acted as the commentators.
Authors like Mona Bhan and Zaffar Choudhary were also invited for separate talks. There were sessions involving screening of documentaries, interactions with new breed of Kashmiri musicians, artists and entrepreneurs, and debates on 'Government's New Recruitment Policy: A Boon or Bane', etc. Moreover, other sessions that Kehwa Talks held covered wide range of diverse topics, which included constitutional history of Jammu and Kashmir, Islam a force of emancipation, Muslims of Jammu, Kashmiri music and its future prospects, etc.
On Kehwa Talks' second anniversary talks on two separate themes, 'Colonial Practices of Post-colonial Nations' and 'Post-colonial Neo-liberal Nationalism in India' were organised which were delivered by Dr. Dibyesh Anand, and acclaimed novelist Dr. Nitasha Kaul.
Undoubtedly, Kehwa Talks has achieved a lot in these two years. For that, Dr. Suhail Masoodi, Director CRDP, and his team deserve a pat on the back. Kudos!
However, several other areas have remained unexplored and untouched for some reason. Not a single debate has been organised on the departures of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley, or the internal displacement in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989. Similarly, no talk has been organised on the new language of resistance and creative resilience. And, the issues related to women, success stories of Kashmir's sports personalities and new breed of authors, artists and vocalists have also not been covered as desired. Areas like environment, architecture and economy have also not been given much attention.
That said, it is also understandable that everything can't be achieved in two years. Kehwa Talks has created a niche for itself and reclaimed the lost social spaces for intellectual debates for sure. The platform is destined to grow and evolve further. We wish it more success and more power!
As Faraz said: Shikwai-e-Zulmat e Shab Se To Kahin Behtar Tha, Apne Hisse Ki Koi Shama Jalate Jaate
Dr. Masoodi has done his bit. He has lit his candle!