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My Pen is my Mace

Posted in 2010 Summer Public Service Program, Sarah by kashmircorps on June 29, 2010

Kashmir's architecture incorporates many different cultural influences.

Yesterday, after a short stint at the beauty parlor for a 30 rupee eyebrow threading and a quick shopping trip, we joined Aya at the Sunday Circle. This weekly gathering is for young journalists, mostly men, with few women writing for Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir and a few other publications. Talk about being in the middle of it within 2 days. Aya, a journalist and my fellow KashmirCorps intern, was giving them a presentation on her experience reporting on the war on Gaza. It was interesting to hear the similarities the journalists drew from Palestine and the Kashmir. Many conversations centered on how journalists can be better agents of truth. Should they write to an American audience who has more power to change policy? Or should they write to a local, national or regional scale? They had questions about how to stay true to themselves and their cause, given editors who want to water-down or change their stories. The debate continued for hours and there was no conclusion. Perhaps there are no easy answers.

I spoke to some of the women and their enthusiasm for journalism was inspiring. They shared that it was difficult for them to break into it because it tends to be a boy’s club. But they continue writing because they are “passionate” about it.

The rest of the day consisted of the stressful act of bargaining. I am starting to really develop my backbone here. I bought a beautiful embroidered bag. The craft skills’ are incredible here and it’s no wonder that Kashmir’s goods get exported everywhere.

Today was the first day I was actually scared.  It was hartal day because another person died on Sunday in a protest in Sopore which is 30 miles from where I am. Most offices and stores have been closed since I got here, aside from a brief opening Sunday night. Sopore has been under indefinite curfew, meaning residents cannot leave their homes. Strikes are self-imposed to demonstrate against the force of paramilitary and curfews are imposed by the Indian authorities.

My coworkers at INTACH were going to the office so I decided to go as well. The driver picked me up at 9:45 AM and we went to the press enclave, where INTACH is located as well as, many newspapers. I got right to work, reading the cultural mapping reports

Jamia Mosque, the central mosque in Srinagar, bears architecture resembling more East Asian influences.

INTACH has done on categorizing almost all the historic buildings in Srinagar. This town is so rich with its own distinct culture, even in its architecture, with influences from the Chinese, Persian, Central Asian, and Indian civilizations. Srinagar’s building types and architecture mostly consists of brick, stone and wood. I’ll share pictures next time because I haven’t been able to do a site visit of Maharaj Gunj, the area between Ali Kadal and Zaina Kadal along the river Jhelum.

I’ve been asked to come up with a revitalization plan of this area. I will be looking at many factors: population growth, migration trends, types of retail, preserving building character, adding more open space, pedestrian connections, road networks etc. I will begin with looking at the issues facing historic preservation, which is akin to many parts of the world. There needs to be increased awareness that preserving historical spaces is in the best interest of a community. It attracts tourism, which increases wealth in a community. But not just for the people coming from the outside, preserving the character of a space creates a ‘sense of place’ for its residents. And if they are educated in why it is important to maintain their structures in a proper manner, with incentives from authorities, the resulting environment can be that of shared communal space.

In between my reading, my coworkers were talking amongst themselves about how things are getting worse in Kashmir. There was a procession from Srinagar to Sopore, to show solidarity to the residents of Sopore, where 8 people have been killed by paramilitary force. We ended up leaving early from work because everyone was on the edge, although it seemed many of them were used to it because they shared their frustrations with humor.  I was just quietly listening to their anxieties as they talked amongst themselves of making sure to take the safer roads, to avoid going to certain parts of town and to try staying indoors.

After leaving work early, we went straight to the Nageen Club, a restaurant and sports club, taking the back roads as to avoid the city center where the protest, which often leads to violence, may ensue. Again, I was lost in Kashmir’s beauty. We drove along Dal Lake and the Shalimar gardens to Nageen Club with the mountains as the backdrop. It was a peaceful drive. Nageen Club sits on Nageen lake, and was recently reopened with a view to the military fort that overlooks the city and many houseboats and shikaras floating by. The rest of the KashmirCorps team met with my INTACH team for a presentation on INTACH’s work on historic preservation in the city. Mr. Saleem Beg, the former Director of Tourism and now director of INTACH, gave us a brief history about Srinagar and an analysis of its built environment, including its architecture. I am really glad that the interns in KashmirCorps have been able to meet each other’s coworkers to some extent.

I came home, laid down, with every intention to get up and change my clothes but I was knocked out.  I hope I can find somewhere to get essentials tomorrow. Thank God, I’ve been eating but since the stores are closed, I haven’t been able to get the essentials. I am not too worried. I’ll figure it out but for the people in Sopore, who are on indefinite curfew, and need milk for their children or bread, what are they to do?

Sarah currently works at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, a think-tank doing research on water infrastructure, transportation and land use issues. She graduated in 2006 with a BS from the University of Southern California in public policy and in 2008 from UC Irvine with a masters in urban planning. While in Kashmir, she will be interning with INTACH, a historic preservation non-profit on a project focusing on the revitalization of the Jhelum riverfront.

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