ONE good conversation can shift the direction of the change forever. Thus spoke someone famously. And it couldn’t be truer in the case of Kashmir, where conversations and open dialogue can pull out the fearful pauses owing to the long decades of violence and ideological suppression.
Take the Kashmir Central Conclave of 2023, held last Tuesday, at Hotel Radisson Collection, Rajbagh, Srinagar.
The much-awaited conclave turned out to be a resounding success, bringing together influential voices from Kashmir and beyond, to engage in thoughtful discussions on a wide range of topics.
The conclave drew much attention not only for its impressive battery of speakers but also for its commitment in fostering dialogue and understanding the region’s complex socio-political and economic landscape. The event was attended by an audience comprising scholars, intellectuals, professors, authors, doctors, journalists, tourism experts and a lineup of university students who participated in discussions and deliberation and debated about the issues relevant to the region of Jammu and Kashmir.
One of the most notable highlights of the conclave was the keynote address by Bashir Assad, editor-in-chief, Kashmir Central Weekly. A renowned journalist and author, Bashir stressed upon the importance of dialogue and discussions among experts, to find lasting solutions to the problems that the Kashmir society stands facing. He encouraged the speakers and the audience to create a lively academic discourse and ensure that the event was not only successful but also put forth workable solutions to the varied issues at hand.
In addition to the keynote address and the panel discussions that followed, the conclave also showcased the artistic and cultural richness of Kashmir. Attendants were enthralled with traditional Kashmiri music performance – Chakri – by Gulzar Ahmad Ganaie, and mesmerising music performances by the students of the University of Kashmir, and another by Shagufta and her group.
Dr. Shafiya, assistant, Department of Higher Education, J&K moderated the programme and shared the objective of the conclave with the participants and the speakers. Dr. Vikram Singh (IPS), a former DGP of Uttar Pradesh, was the chief guest.
The conclave was divided into two sessions and four contemporary themes which indeed called for detailed deliberations.
- Let’s go beyond the marks
The first panel discussion was themed upon ‘Innovative pedagogies to transform education’. Moderated by Venus Upadhayaya, correspondent, Epoch Times, New York, the session saw participation of speakers like Prof. Imtiyaz-Ul-Haq from the University of Kashmir, Prof. Shahid Rasool, dean, Academic Affairs, Central University of Kashmir; Dr Manjula Shroff, MD and CEO, Kalorex Group, Ahmedabad.
In his address to the momentous gathering, Dr. Shahid Rasool emphasised upon the innovation in technology and how it played a huge role in bringing education to every rural sector of the country. He observed, “Covid-19 turned out to be a necessary evil that brought about technological intervention and innovative ways of learning. There is, now, cyber pedagogy as we are either digital natives or digital migrants. Our younger generations are digital natives as they are witnessing boom of technology while the people of my ilk are migrants as we depend upon the younger ones for the problems we face in handling technological affairs”.
On parent-children relationship and its impact on the education of a child, Dr. Shahid shared how parents were the first teachers of a child and how they had a long-lasting impact on the holistic development of a child. He explained, “Our children are influenced by the outside world. These influences can either be positive or negative. They are prone to both and this is where a parent needs to filter out these influences”.
Dr. Shahid focussed on learning the mother tongue as a “foreign language would not do justice to the development of a child. To mark his presence throughout the world, one must imbibe a universal language in order to not eat a humble pie when visiting outside one’s country”.
Meanwhile, Prof. Imtiyaz-ul-Haq stressed upon faculty development; the increase of GDP at the primary level in education; broadening of teacher profile; and hybrid mode of education wherein students are taken out of classes to visualise the outside world so as to have a first-hand experience of the places they will serve in the future.
Dr. Manjula shared her thoughtful insights on education pedagogies in which she said that India was synonymous with an impressive education system. She added, “We have shown the world the path of learning and education. Unfortunately, education is still intellectual, academic and marks-driven. Our children must cope with the present day realities. A child must retain, which means he should be mentally and emotionally healthy”. She described art as a therapy: “Art is a beautiful therapy and conversation is the biggest release. Art must be normalised in schools to infuse emotional balance among children and a child should not be fallen for the crippling past. Primary education is important to have a strong future”.
- Open up to possibilities in tourism
The second theme of the session laid great emphasis on the tourism sector of Kashmir wherein the panelists lucidly explained and debated about its potential. The main idea of the theme was ‘Kashmir Tourism: Beyond PDG (Pahalgam, Dal Lake and Gulmarg)’. The panelists of the session were Mushtaq Chaya, CEO, Chaya Group Of Industries; Prof. Reyaz Ahmad Qureshi and Umar Imtiyaz, a filmmaker. The session was moderated by Rouf Tramboo, president of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK).
Mushtaq Chaya said the three decade-long turmoil hit us badly: “We have not contributed anything to tourism during this period. What we have here is a natural gift. We have time and again requested the government to bring Kashmir on to the world tourism map and we hope it will keenly look into it”.
Prof. Reyaz Ahmad Qureshi laid out the flaws in handling the tourism sector and suggested measures so that the tourism industry operates from the forefront. He said, “It’s a myth that tourism is confined to Kashmir only; it has, in fact, flourished in the whole South Asian region. In Kashmir, we have been having tourists since the times of King Ashoka, but at present, we have no tourism policy which could cater to the demands of tourists and raise the economy of the region. As a student of tourism, I can articulate with authority, that tourism is yet not the backbone of the Kashmir economy. It just feeds some pockets of Kashmir. But it is crucial to remember that we indeed have tremendous tourism potential but lack the right policy and direction”.
He explained how rural tourism could boost the Kashmir economy and lead to an increased footfall of tourists in the Valley. “We have many offbeat destinations in Kashmir like Gurez, Teetwal, Karnah, higher reaches of Rafiabad and others which hold out huge possibilities of tourism in Kashmir but are ignored since our focus rests on the traditional tourist spots only. Kashmir has a potential of education tourism, cultural tourism and religious tourism if we channelise our priorities in tourism sector well,” he said.
Chipping in his bit to the debate, Umar Imtiyaz talked about how the film industry had the potential to showcase Kashmir to the global world. He said, “Our film policy can play an important role in buoying up the tourism potential of Kashmir. We lack in infrastructure and even potential actors thus hindering the exploring of our full potential. If we can work upon these aspects, our regional film industry can do wonders”.
Umar further added, “If the government can provide us subsidy for five years in building the film industry here, we will show the world our different branch of tourism and get to project our cultural ethos and food traditions to the world.”
In his concluding remarks, Prof. Reyaz said, “Ideally we should start with eco-tourism as it’s small but a responsible form of tourism. We have a limited tourist season and our region is not favourable for industrialisation. People join the Amarnath Yatra which moves through specific routes only. Why can’t tourists from Mata Vishno Devi head to Kashmir? Because we have failed to project our religious tourism. So, there is much more we can do with our tourism – we just need to expand the way we look at possibilities”.
The second session had kicked off with a video message forwarded by the editor of Kashmir Central – Balpreet – in which she congratulated the team for the organising such a great conclave and for being a magazine that stood boldly and courageously against all that was wrong with the Valley. She also congratulated the magazine for being positivity-oriented and the way it never failed to highlight the good changes in Jammu & Kashmir. She sent her best compliments to the Kashmir Central team for representing journalism of such courage.
- The youth issues
The third session – ‘Social deviance of Kashmir’s youth’ was moderated by Prof. Gull Mohammad Wani from the University of Kashmir and the panelists were Dr. Majid, HOD, Department of Psychology, JVC Hospital; Dr. Mehraj-ud-din Shah, DSW, CUK, and Renu Koul Verma, founder, Vitasta Publishing House.
In his opening remarks, Prof. Gull said, “The Kashmiri youth have a rich history but today, most of them, are falling to drugs. There is disillusionment among the youth due to unemployment. We must have strong political will here where we can pull our youth back from the clutches of such modern menaces. That’s why we have always advocated that the security grid needs to be deactivated and political grid need to be activated”.
Dr. Majid referred to some instances wherein he explained how social deviance could lead to psychiatric problems. He added that absence of acquaintances could expose a person to mental trauma which further results in deviance. He enlightened the audience about formal and informal deviance among the youth.
Dr. Mehraj-ud-din explained that “we must ponder over deviance. Technological innovations have also caused social deviance among our youth which have further caused broken families, conflict, and deviation from religious practices”.
Renu Koul Verma said, “As parents, we must communicate with our children. We must give our children a lease to live a good life.”
- For the sake of peace
The final session of the conclave – ‘Peace Building: Challenges and Opportunities’ – was moderated by Venus Upadaya. The speakers of the session were Dr. Vikram Singh (IPS), who was also the chief guest for the event; Prof. Mohammad Afzal Zargar from Central University of Kashmir and Prof. Gull Wani.
Dr. Vikram (IPS), praising the decorum at the event said: “I’m mesmerised by the discipline you all have shown here today. I compliment each one of you sitting here. Peace and emotions are correlated. If you want peace, war with yourself. There must be thorough equality before law as enshrined in our Constitution. We belong to all and everyone belongs to us. Rule of law is supreme and we are accountable for our own actions. The Constitution is sacrosanct which shows us the light of peace and prosperity.”
Dr. Vikram ended his speech with urdu couplets which were highly applauded.
Prof Afzal talked about conflict resolution and how peace-building institutions showed us a path. He stressed about economic development and how education could play a vital role in peace-building. Meanwhile, Prof Gull about peace-making and peace-building.
The conclave was sponsored by Radisson Collection; Jammu & Kashmir Bank; Jamkash Vehicles; Kalorex Group, Ahmedabad and 14th Avenue Cafe.
At the end of the event, famous Kashmir based singer and consulting editor, Kashmir Central Waheed Jeelani articulated a vote of thanks for the guests, participants and sponsors.
Jeelani expressed his satisfaction with the outcome of the conclave thus: “Our goal was to create a platform for meaningful dialogue, discussions and promote unity. We are thrilled with the response we have received.”
The speakers and Team KC were awarded with certificates towards the culmination of the conclave.
The success of the Kashmir Central conclave underscores the importance of open dialogue and collaboration in addressing the challenges and opportunities that Kashmir faces.
As the region continues to evolve, events like these serve as beacons of hope, fostering a sense of community and cooperation among its people.