‘Aapka India, hamara Kashmir…’ a stray remark heard while visiting Kashmir for an assignment in 2007 while she was working as a journalist stayed with Manisha Gangahar. Later, as a research fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, she resolved to make sense of it and returned to the Valley, where she began recording narratives on Kashmir — media reports, literature (fiction and non-fiction), memoirs and films — from 1989 till present.
Manisha’s book, Kashmir’s Narratives of Conflict: Identity Lost in Space and Time, which was launched on Sunday at the recently concluded Chandigarh Lit Fest — Literati 2013, holds the ordinary Kashmiri’s point of view. “The book is a product of a two-year research project that focussed on the ordinary people of Kashmir. The perplexity of the state had remained with me and I wanted to trace the ambivalence of the situation there,” says Manisha, a doctorate in English literature and currently a lecturer at SD College, Sector 32, Chandigarh. From interviewing those active on the political front, such as Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik to surrendered militants, writers and the youth of Kashmir, Manisha tried to compile as many original thoughts as possible.
The outcome, says the young writer, is seeped uncertainty. “From the accounts, I can make out that most Kashmiris are no longer pro-Pakistan. But, in the narratives, there were many gaps — those relating to identifying Kashmiris on the basis of ‘Kashmiriyat’, violence and resistance to the adoption of Indian identity and the Indian military presence,” says Manisha.
Do they believe that autonomy for Kashmir is the solution? “The youth of Kashmir is lost. I asked a
14-year-old boy why he was pelting stones at the army, and he said it gave him satisfaction. The focus is on the conflict outside and then there is the conflict within,” she says.
Manisha’s next book, she tells us, would be a comparative analysis on women in conflict zones vis-à-vis Kashmir and North-East India.