True Tales From A Conflict Zone: Why The Kashmir Walla's Narratives Are Important - Homegrown

True Tales From A Conflict Zone: Why The Kashmir Walla's Narratives Are Important

Often the voices which go unheard possess the ability to reveal the bare facts. The image of Kashmir, reflected by the mainstream media, is a complex one caught in the midst of much debate, critical analysis and the odd, strategically-timed media silence, even as it remains eulogised for its unparalleled beauty. Opinions about ‘the Kashmir issue’ are a dime a dozen, but often, it is the views of the people who are actually under the realm of real conflict - whose voices are ultimately the most important - which are lost in the pandemonium. It is with the goal of creating a platform for these viewpoints that the online publication, The Kashmir Walla came into being in 2009, today a full-fledged monthly publication that is ‘an insider’s story book of life in Kashmir’.
What was only a blog at the onset has come a long way since, in providing a closer look at the individual and collective struggles of Kashmiris in the region through matchless narratives. Founded by Journalist Fahad Shah, the publication today incorporates literature of resistance, art and poetry by common people, and not just established writers, from Asia, Middle East and Central Asia.Welcoming submissions from anyone, The Kashmir Walla has accepted the works of students, writers, poets, photographers, artists and journalists in the past, with published contributors including Mridu Rai, author of ‘Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects’, the Indian writer Omair Ahmad, whose book ‘Jimmy the Terrorist’ was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize, David Barsamian, a renowned independent journalist and commentator, and Siddhartha Gigoo, author of the novel ‘The Garden of Solitude’ to name just a few.
The author of critically-acclaimed novel ‘The Collaborator’ Mirza Waheed said of the magazine, in an interview with Al-Jazeera: "There has been brutal murder on the streets of Srinagar that has not been reported well in India, so they turned to new media...opened up websites like Kashmirwalla and I'm heartened by that.”
At an early age of 19, Fahad Shah started The Kashmir Walla blog in the winter of 2009, that mostly published his own stories, opinions and photos, along with contributions from several bloggers and journalists from other countries. The blog turned into a full-fledged website by the summer of 2010, and received an appreciable response, paving its path towards become a monthly online magazine of politics, culture, business, and literature by 2011, within 26 months of its conception. Personal narrative pieces and features  are interspersed with interviews and reviews, and each issue of the magazine, which releases on the 7th of every month, covers a unique theme.
"We wanted a breathing space, wherein the reality of Kashmir and the incidents that occur in the valley would get honestly reported," says the journalist who graduated from the University of Kashmir, who now serves as the editor of the magazine. "We have had themes like the issues pertaining to Kashmiri Pundits, Kashmir and literature and the tragedies of Kashmir, including the bloody massacre of 1931, on our website."Like many others in the region, he too has lost loved ones in the ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan, and the conflict in the Valley has shaped his outlooks indelibly. The day-to-day battles that people fight in the valley is one that he aims to highlight, and he recalls how he once missed his final university exam as the security officers refused to accept his examination admit card as a curfew pass; an incident to make us reflect on the everyday realities Kashmiri locals weather that are so diametrically different from our own.
The Kashmir Walla also employs photo-features and personal narratives to chronicle the stories of individuals as well as the changing times. Mohabid, a photojournalist whose work was based on the revolutionary graffiti that appeared along the length and breadth of the valley, told The Sunday Guardian, "It took me more than three months to capture the images, but they are erased the moment they appear."
The website also has a section with a daily cartoon, a culture section covering art, films and books, and an exclusive video-box providing a glimpse into the lives of Kashmiris – a journey to school where the children have to contend with the challenge of snow along the way, a water crisis in Pattan, which compels the women to fetch water from the river, and a true video of crowds mourning over a civilian’s dead body in South Kashmir. It’s almost like a new-age ‘report your story by yourself’ model, which is not directed by an ‘outsider’ view. There are also no advertisements incorporated into the online magazine so far; The Kashmir Walla works on small donations from friends so that it can remain an independent organization. Present on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, this is an organisation that is open for debate and comments from people on their stories - perhaps the final note that confirms its democratised process and approach.Commenting on the first hand reportage from Kashmir that’s slowly gaining prominence through the medium of internet, Fahad adds, “No one from Kashmir used to speak up. Now Kashmiris want to do things on their own. The generation born around 1988 to 1992 is more interested in reading and writing. They’re more interested in reporting on their own lives.”
And understandably, they are interested in taking back the stage from journalists and photojournalists who swoop in and out of the region in search of a story, so that they may finally document their own lives. Essayist Pankaj Mishra perhaps said it best with his piece in The Guardian when he said that “apart from the youth on the streets, there are also those with their noses in books...”, a generation, he wrote, that will soon “make its way into the world with its private traumas. Life under political oppression has begun to yield, in the slow bitter way it does, a rich intellectual and artistic harvest.”
The Kashmir Walla is indisputably a part of this rich harvest, and has inspired many others to speak up for their rights and their beliefs. For the ones who’ve grown up seeing conflict and chaos, it is incredibly comforting to notice that their activism begins with the pen, not the sword; it is the former, after all, that has always been mightier.

Words: Sushant Kumar & Aditi Dharmadhikari

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