DR. SYED MUTAHAR AAQIB
AMIDST mesmerising landscapes and a smattering of the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir, it was a privilege to attend the Kashmir Central Conclave 2023 on October 3 at the Radisson Hotel, Srinagar.
Organised by the Kashmir Central magazine, the conclave got together a diverse ensemble of intellectuals, academicians, and luminaries. They congregated to dissect some pressing issues around Kashmir and come up with innovative solutions. The proceedings of the event were gracefully conducted by Dr. Shafia, an assistant professor of English with the J&K Higher Education Department.
The conclave’s kicked off with an evocative inauguration and cultural prelude, setting the stage for a day of profound dialogue and scholarly exchanges. The inaugural notes of the traditional Kashmiri music infused the gathering with an air of anticipation. Attendees, ranging from academicians, journalists and students were eager to partake of the intellectual feast that promised to explore the very heart and soul of Kashmir’s challenges and potential. The cultural prelude, woven with mesmerising musical performances and captivating artistic expression, was a testament to the conclave’s celebration of Kashmir’s rich heritage. As the echoes of the inaugural performances reverberated, the audience’s anticipation grew. It was a prelude to a day that was marked by incisive discussions, visionary insights and shared aspirations for a brighter future.
The conclave was inaugurated by former DGP of Uttar Pradesh Dr Vikram Singh (IPS) in the presence of dignitaries from various universities and high-profile personalities which included Prof. Shahid Rasool, dean, Academic Affairs, Central University of Kashmir; Prof. Mohammad Afzal Zargar, registrar, Central University of Kashmir; Mushtaq Chaya, CEO of the Chaya Group of Industries; Prof. Imtiyaz-ul-Haq, professor of Economics, University Of Kashmir; Manjula Shroff, MD & CEO Kalorex Group, Ahmedabad; Venus Upadaya, correspondent, Epoch Times, New York; Dr. Renu Koul Verma, MD, Vitastha Publishing; Dr. Maheen Mustafa, former principal, J&K Higher Education Department; Dr. Reyaz Ah. Qureshi, HOD, Hospitality and Tourism, University Of Kashmir; Umar Imtiyaz, a renowned artist and filmmaker; and Bashir Assad, editor-in-chief, Kashmir Central.
In his welcome address, Assad deliberated upon the journey of the magazine and articulated its unwavering commitment towards providing a coveted platform for nuanced discourses and intellectual interactions.
Here’s a glimpse at the highlights of the conclave:
- Panel Discussion One
Moderated by Venus Upadaya, the inaugural panel discussion, titled ‘Innovative Pedagogies To Transform Education’, propelled attendees into the dynamic realm of modern education. In an era where technological advancements are reshaping the fabric of learning, Prof. Shahid Rasool championed the integration of digital tools to enhance pedagogy. Prof. Imtiyaz-ul-Haq extolled the virtues of experiential learning and practical skill development essential for navigating the complexities of the contemporary world. Manjula Shroff underscored the enduring role of literature in nurturing critical thinking. This discussion resoundingly underscored the imperative for adaptable and innovative educational approaches. It underscored that students must be equipped with the skill-set required for success in the constantly evolving 21st-century landscape.
Prof. Shahid Rasool deliberated upon the transformative potential of technology in the classroom. He emphasised how digital tools could democratise access to quality education, transcending geographical barriers, digital divide and creating a more inclusive learning environment. The discussion highlighted the urgent need for institutions to embrace these innovative pedagogies.
- Panel Discussion Two
Moderated by Rouf Tramboo, the second session transcended the ordinary, probing the question of ‘Kashmir Tourism: Beyond Pahalgam, Dal Lake, and Gulmarg’. Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya, an advocate for diversified tourist experiences, implored the audience to discover Kashmir’s rich culture. Chaya opened the discussion with a captivating narrative of Kashmir’s tourism legacy. He nostalgically recounted the days when visitors would flock to the region not only for its breathtaking landscapes but also for its vibrant culture and warm hospitality. However, Chaya also acknowledged the need to diversify the tourist experience beyond the well-trodden paths.
Dr. Reyaz Ah. Qureshi took the stage with a compelling vision. He painted a picture of a Kashmir that is not only a tourist destination but also a steward of its natural beauty. He emphasised responsible tourism practices that would not only preserve the environment but also empower local communities. He delved into sustainable tourism practices, offering a compelling vision for preserving the region’s natural beauty.
Umar Imtiyaz, emphasised the need for community participation in tourism development. This discussion unveiled the untapped potential of Kashmir’s tourism sector, advocating for sustainable practices and promoting lesser-known gems that could entice a diverse array of tourists. He spoke passionately about the need for locals to actively participate in tourism development. He shared success stories of community-based tourism, wherein villagers became hosts and guides, offering tourists an authentic experience of the Kashmiri culture. The audience, captivated by these discussions, came to realise that Kashmir’s allure extended far beyond its renowned tourist hotspots. The region’s cultural richness, unexplored landscapes, and potential for responsible tourism were underscored as pathways to not only boost the local economy but also foster cross-cultural exchanges.
- Panel Discussion Three
With Venus Upadaya as the moderator, the third session – ‘Peace Building: Challenges and Opportunities’, navigated the intricate path towards harmony in Kashmir.
Dr. Vikram Singh, who was also the chief guest on the occasion, elaborated upon the indispensable role of security forces in maintaining a tranquil environment. Drawing from his extensive experience in law enforcement and security, he emphasised the critical role of security forces in maintaining peace and stability. He highlighted the challenges faced by the security personnel operating in a conflict zone like Kashmir and stressed the importance of a nuanced approach that could balance security with respect for human rights.
Prof. M. Afzal Zargar discussed the imperative of dialogue in the pursuit of peace. He underscored that lasting peace could only be achieved through open and sincere conversations, even in the face of deep-seated conflicts. Prof. Zargar’s words resonated with the audience, emphasising the need to prioritise dialogue as a means of conflict resolution.
Prof. Gul Mohammad Wani emphasised the symbiotic relationship between economic development and enduring peace. This discussion shed light on the multifaceted nature of peace-building in conflict-prone regions. It highlighted that a comprehensive approach, encompassing dialogue, security measures, and economic development, were indispensable for the realisation of lasting peace. Prof. Wani presented a compelling argument for economic development as a driver of peace. He pointed out that addressing socio-economic disparities and providing opportunities for youth could help in reducing the appeal of violence. The discussion illuminated the interconnectedness of economic development, social well-being, and peace-building. The discussions in this session underscored the importance of a holistic approach in addressing the challenges faced by the region.
- Panel Discussion Four
Moderated by Prof. Gul Mohammad Wani, the fourth and the final panel discussion delved into the crucial issue of ‘Social Deviance of Kashmir’s Youth’.
Dr. Majid, HOD, Department of Psychology, JVC Hospital, Srinagar, illuminated the psychological factors contributing to deviant behaviour among the youth. He underscored that the prolonged conflict and uncertainty in the region had left a profound impact upon the mental health of the younger generation. Dr. Majid emphasised the importance of psychological support, counselling, and creating safe spaces for youth to express themselves.
Dr. Mehraj-ud-Deen Shah stressed the importance of robust mental health support systems. Dr. Shah spoke about the need to prioritise mental well-being. He emphasised that addressing mental health issues was not a sign of weakness but a fundamental aspect of overall health. Dr. Shah called for increased awareness, de-stigmatisation of mental health challenges, and the establishment of mental health support systems within the community.
Renu Koul Verma championed the pivotal role of education and mentorship in guiding the youth towards a brighter and more productive future. Addressing social deviance among youth emerged as a pivotal concern for the region’s trajectory towards progress. The discussion resounded with the clarion call for a comprehensive approach that integrates mental health support, expanded educational opportunities, and the cultivation of positive role models.
As the panel discussion concluded, it was evident that addressing the issues of social deviance of Kashmir’s youth required a multifaceted approach. Mental health support, education, and mentorship were identified as key pillars in guiding the youth towards constructive paths and away from deviant behaviour.
The closing ceremonies of the Kashmir Central Conclave 2023 were marked by a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. Waheed Jeelani, a prominent artist of the region, delivered a vote of thanks. With heartfelt sincerity, he expressed gratitude to the organisers, speakers, participants, and the entire support team that worked tirelessly to bring the conclave to fruition. As the participants were seen leaving, it was evident that the Kashmir Central Conclave 2023 had not only been a day of intellectual enrichment but also a day of building bridges and fostering a sense of community among those committed to the region’s progress.
- The takeaways
The Kashmir Central Conclave 2023, with its four thought-provoking panel discussions stands as a testament to the power of dialogue, collaboration, and shared vision. It illuminated pathways for Kashmir’s progress, emphasising the need for innovative education, diversified tourism, comprehensive peace-building, and the holistic development of its youth. As the participants left the venue, they carried with them, a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to contributing towards the betterment of Kashmir. The conclave provided a platform for meaningful discussions, forging connections, and inspiring action.
In retrospect, the Kashmir Central Conclave 2023 was more than just an event; it was a catalyst for positive change. It reminded us that, even in the face of complex challenges, when minds come together and ideas flow freely, the potential for progress knows no bounds. The spirit of unity and cooperation that permeated the conclave leaves us with a hopeful outlook for the future of Kashmir, where the seeds of change planted during this event have the potential to flourish and bloom.
(The author is a former scientist/engineer at NIC, MeitY, Government of India, and presently assistant professor, Department of Higher Education, UT of J&K. The views and ideas expressed are his own.)