Narratives of Conflict

by tuftsigl
Aug 08
Allison Jeffery is a rising senior majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Security, and Spanish. This summer, she has been working with INSPIRE Fellow Justine Hardy at Kashmir Lifeline and Health Centre in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, conducting research for her senior thesis on the effect on conflict violence on women’s health.  
The conflict in Kashmir has been simmering for decades, but why, and to what degree depends greatly on who you ask. During the three weeks I spent in Srinagar, I heard many different narratives of the conflict. 
There were those who referred to a conflict that was largely over, focusing instead on the beauty of the valley that used to be its sole claim to fame. One man pointed out the high level of prosperity in Kashmir compared to other areas of India, saying, “Everyone has their own house, all with tin roofs. You never hear of a Kashmiri dying of cold or hunger.” This may be true, but it leaves out the fact that you rarely hear of people in other parts of India being shot in the streets, or curfews routinely limiting people to their homes for days. However, this man, and many others connected to the tourist industry, have created a narrative that obscures the conflict for the increasing number of domestic tourists visiting from the south. The conflict being all but over, and the focus returned to Kashmir’s wondrous natural beauty, is crucial to the continued flow of tourist dollars that funds their sense of normalcy. For me, as a tourist, there were days, specifically the weekends, where if I wasn’t working and went sightseeing, the conflict was largely hidden from me. If I didn’t have an internship and regular interactions with Kashmiris not involved in the tourist sector, I’m not sure I would have seen Kashmir as a place of continuing conflict. 
The competing narrative, as described to me by the majority of my contacts, can be summed up by what one person defined the valley as “the world’s most beautiful prison.” The sentiment is echoed by another’s explanation that, for the majority of Kashmiris, political and economic factors prevent them from ever leaving. For these people, the conflict is very much alive, evidenced by the thousands of soldiers who patrol the streets, curfewing the city and stopping cars for searches. A common occurrence known as stone-pelting involves young Kashmiris throwing stones at the (heavily-armed) Indian military, sometimes resulting in the military shooting and killing the stone-pelters.  While I never saw this personally, it did occur a few times while I was in Srinagar, as well as a day’s long curfew of the entire city for Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit. 
While these factors complicate the lives of all Kashmiris, they affect women in different and complex ways. In my next blog post, titled “Women of the Valley,” I’ll talk about my experiences studying the effects of the conflict on women’s heath. 

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