After the riots that cost over 100 young lives in Kashmir in 2010, this year has seen signs of hope for improvements in the relationship between the Indian and Pakistani governments. Away from the negotiating tables, peacebuilder Ashima Kaul is building on this mood to foster understanding across the divided communities of Jammu and Kashmir.
In a series of workshops, Ashima has brought together young people from different parts of the state, including Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists of differing ethnic groups. Some travelled eight hours to get there and others had never travelled out of their home districts before. They gathered in the picturesque town of Bhaderwah, once a hotbed of militancy, in the rugged Himalayas.
These young people belong to a generation that has grown up surrounded by conflict.
They have only known the fears and losses of war, the hatreds and grievances that prolong violence between communities. In the 2010 riots, the majority of those injured or killed were young people.
Participant Arunima Sehgal, a Kashmiri Hindu, had fled her home during the troubles and was nervous before her workshop:
Ashima began with discussions on the causes and history of the conflict. She noticed people’s perceptions shifting:
Participants joined theatre workshops, allowing them to explore emotional and political issues, such as ethnic stereotypes or gender intolerance, which often cannot be explored in extremist areas.
By the sessions’ end, Arunima had discovered that all her peers share “common aspirations, common goals, a common desire for a better future, a peaceful future. The workshop has completely changed my perspective of life.” She returned to Jammu and began peacebuilding projects of her own – including a vigil for young protesters who died last year.
Observer Adi Bhaduri commented:
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