JAMMU & KASHMIR
In 2001, WISCOMP initiated a grassroots program on women and peacebuilding in Jammu and Kashmir called Athwaas (which in the Kashmiri language means ‘a warm greeting or handshake’). It comprised a group of Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh Kashmiri women—representing the diversity of the region—who came together to form a dialogue group. The group explored possibilities for a ‘just peace’ through a range of activities that included active listening, trauma counseling, conflict transformation workshops, advocacy with local and national-level government representatives. Initiation of programs to facilitate economic empowerment and political awareness was another dimension of the activities undertaken by Athwaas.
Athwaas was formed in response to a request made by Kashmiri participants at a WISCOMP Roundtable titled Breaking the Silence: Women and Kashmir in December 2000 to form a group that could understand the lived realities of the diverse victims of the conflict, record women’s voices, and build bridges of trust and reconciliation. This all-Kashmiri group, drawn from among the Roundtable participants, represented divergent perspectives on the conflict and its resolution. Through collective trips to Baramulla, Kupwara, Anantnag, Pulwama, Srinagar, and the migrant camps in Jammu (home to the displaced Pandits of the valley), the members of Athwaas came to the realization that a listening project on the diverse narratives of women’s experiences was a crucial first-step in efforts to foreground their voices in any meaningful peace initiative. Between November 2001 and March 2004, Athwaas undertook several field trips to Kashmir.
WISCOMP’s Kashmir initiative has opened up an invigorating process that enabled Athwaas members to negotiate the difficult journey to re-humanization and understanding. Conscious of the empowering potential of ‘listening/peacemaking circles’ (that have been used internationally), WISCOMP adopted this methodology to encourage active listening and to facilitate an acceptance of the existence of “multiple truths” and “multi-layered realities” in Kashmir. An important area of shared intervention identified by the Kashmiri women related to the need to work with young men and women so as to dissuade them from ‘picking up the gun’ and in the anguished realization that a whole generation had been raised in an environment vitiated by violent conflict.
As part of the WISCOMP Athwaas initiative, Kashmiri women travelled to different parts of the troubled region to:
• Work towards rebuilding trust between Kashmiri Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, to explore possibilities for reconciliation
• Identify and nourish peace constituencies
• Articulate the concerns of women to policymakers and government interlocutors
Marking an important step in this process has been the initiation of Samanbals (a Kashmiri term used to describe a space of solidarity, a meeting point for women to share their hopes, joys and sorrows). The Athwaas members conceptualized and took responsibility for new initiatives that would improve the channels of communication in areas that they had identified for their respective peace interventions. These initiatives corresponded with the special skills that each member brought to the group. At the same time, they were driven by the overarching vision to provide a safe physical and psychological space for women to come together to strengthen the fragile bonds that hold communities together. While certain activities—economic and skill-building—were identified for each center, the objective was defined as the creation of a physical space that would be considered safe for reflection and reconciliation. In that, the initiatives also sought to erase the artificial boundaries that demarcated the private and public lives of women who engaged in processes of dialogue.
Member of the Athwaas project now run and lead several independent initiatives in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Drawing on the learnings from this decade-long peacebuilding project, in the year 2012, WISCOMP entered into a partnership with Foundation for Academic Excellence and Access (FAEA) to deepen and widen its engagement in Kashmir through its ‘Education for Peace’ initiative. The Education for Peace initiative titled Hum Kadam engages with adolescents/youth and educators at school and college levels. WISCOMP and FAEA currently work with strategically located schools and colleges in Kashmir and Delhi to work towards their collective vision of building cultures of peace, inclusivity and coexistence along with responding to the need for access and equity for young people to enter with confidence and to creatively engage with the Higher Education space.