Ashima Kaul shares reflections participating in workshops with Kashmiri young people.

It was third day of the Youth Expression and Leadership (YEAL) workshop in Gandhi Smriti Darshan Samiti, New Delhi; I was observing the young participants from the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh regions sitting in a circle interacting with the facilitator.

They were from diverse faith backgrounds, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist, and so their ethnicities were different. They were Kashmiris, Dogras, and Ladakhi. Their experiences of the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir were all different.

They were all attentively listening to what the facilitator was saying. He was guiding them to intellectually understand how mental images are formed and constructed; how individuals perceive the world around them and make sense of it. Later in the day, he was further challenging them to the possibility of living out of the conditioning of our beliefs, perceptions, positions, values and even experiences.

The participants, aged between 19 and 24 years, were listening very carefully and attentively, absorbing, introspecting, inquiring and asking questions. There were responses from the facilitator, more questions and the dialogue continued. After much deliberation, the initial resistance started giving way to logic, reasoning and a new knowledge showing them that all conflicts originally begin in the minds of an individual.

Transforming perceptions

 Each one of them perhaps saw each other truly as individuals and not as Hindus or Muslims, Kashmiris or Dogras.
Finally, the moment arrived when it dawned on them that there was indeed a possibility to learn - or rather, unlearn and disconnect with - the mind’s conditioning. It is then that I saw how mental images that had been constructed over many years within each one of them were now breaking down. I sat still so as to not disturb what was unfolding before me. Their body language and expression told me that whatever they had held for all these years was crumbling within them, the concrete layers of conditioning were cracking to offer a glimpse of what was lying underneath - a new self, the self which had been overshadowed by an identity which was deeply political in nature.

The realisation that there is more to ones ‘political identity’ could be seen in the expression of their eyes. Each one of them perhaps saw each other truly as individuals and not as Hindus or Muslims, Kashmiris or Dogras.

For me it was the most overwhelming moment, and one which I want to hold on to forever. I was witness to the transformative learning experience the group was undergoing, individually and collectively, and that is what gives meaning and purpose to Yakjah’s work in Jammu and Kashmir, which in turn gives meaning and purpose to my life.

Transformation which happens at the consciousness level will bring the change we wish to see in our region, a change which enables new thought processes to unfold, enables an individual to develop an integrated self which manifests into integrating other peoples. And the vision to enable and initiate similar processes in others, so as to not only to lead oneself in taking forward this process but to also lead others in taking it forward. This initiation of processes for change at the inter-personal relation is a political action. This action will lead to conflict transformation and to eventual resolution of the conflict, so that political formulas which are cosmetic would become temporary adjustments.

However, the young minds when they go back to their environments of prejudice, hate and violence need to be constantly guided, mentored and connected, to allow the transformative experience to be consolidated.

Further YEAL workshops once again brought the group together. However this time some new faces joined. This time the focus was on expressing earlier experiences of ‘thinking out of the box’, initiating the processes of change in new entrants, and the sharing of each other’s pain and trauma. Recognising and acknowledging the realities of the other, and in that process, forming new bonds.

Overcoming political identities

In Jammu and Kashmir people have a political identity which overshadows all other identities. From a housewife to a small child everybody has an opinion on the political discourse and political resolution of the conflict. These political identities are further politicised by whosoever claims to be the stakeholder to the conflict. The challenge before us as peacebuilders is how to initiate processes that brings true transformation in the way an individual perceives the world around them, makes a sense of their own environment, and arrives at decisions based on pure perception, without any mental conditioning or images that one has held so far.