Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Aug 22, 2020
Peacebuilding framework, narrative and policy intervention in Jammu & Kashmir

There are several community-led organisations in Jammu and Kashmir, including some helmed by women and the youth.  Some of these work to create enabling spaces for alternate expression by young people, some focus on cross-cultural and community dialogues, peace education, women’s rights and livelihoods, and many others engage in service delivery, including running homes for destitutes and orphans, drug de-addiction centres, rehabilitation programmes.

However, these community organisations, irrespective of if they have emerged organically in their local contexts or are being run from outside the region, have not been able to advance a peacebuilding programme to comprehensively counter a meta narrative that justifies and glorifies violent expressions. The meta narrative, arising from ‘wounds of memory’, is instrumental in linking personal and political agendas, and has led to an identity construct around victimhood that often overshadows every other narrative, including those seeking peace. In the absence of home-grown ‘peace sprouts’ and supportive structures that strengthen, uphold and glorify the idea of peace, existing peacebuilding initiatives have remained isolated, insulated and dwarfed in front of this meta narrative that has popularised the language of confrontation, hate and violence.

Peacebuilding actors understand that the foremost requisite to work effectively within communities is to establish trust, acknowledge and heal the trauma of conflict, find justice, hold accountability and develop an empathic leadership. In Jammu and Kashmir, we are far from taking such steps. On the contrary, the region, particularly the Kashmir Valley, has seen a rising influence of security forces that has exacerbated the violence and the politicisation and polarisation of identities, giving rise to uncertainty, division and deep despondency.

The socio-political space in Jammu and Kashmir is contested turf wherein narratives push against each other to define the space. The last decade has seen a shift conflicts worldwide, with a rise in religious and ethnicity based violent movements. Conflicts like those in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan are protracted, intractable, deeply complex and multilayered. These conflicts are no longer being fought on a battlefield, but have entered our homes, streets, by-lanes, localities, towns and cities, becoming violent encounter sites. There has also been a tactical shift in the root causes of conflicts. They are firmly rooted in the realm of identity politics and are, in their most extreme form, deeply conservative and reactionary. Similar trappings are see in Kashmir. While these conflicts are impacting men, women, young people and children are the hardest hit. Such conflicts are influencing young women and men, feeding their imagination, shaping their psyche and destroying their mental wellbeing, and drawing them in as victims of violence or participants.

A generation has grown up in Kashmir witnessing and experiencing the intersectionality of violence, terror and religion in their daily lives, and absorbed imported global narratives on Islam that rose during the early 2000s. The advent of the internet, smartphones and social media made it possible and easier to infiltrate and disseminate extremist ideologies that drew the populace to the ideas of martyrdom, jihad and mujahideen valour. The recruitment of young people to terrorist groups as over-ground workers and sympathisers opened new narratives on jihad and the Islamic caliphate as a departure from political concepts like right to self-determination, crystalising Kashmiri identity from a Muslim to Islamic one influenced by global Islamist movements based on the supremacist idea of caliphate and jihad. This was also the same period that a right-wing political party came to power in New Delhi, fanning an extreme nationalist discourse across the country. It hardened the position of various drivers and actors of the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, polarising the two regions and transforming the socio-political space into an exceedingly competitive and confrontationist one. The region became the battle ground for opposing ideologies and narratives—the Wahabhi vs the Hindutva. At the local level in Jammu and Kashmir, the politicisation of demography and identity-based politics fueled and added to the identity constructs.

Peace Intervention and Policy 

Governments see Jammu and Kashmir through the singular lens of geo-strategic security dimensions, law enforcement and political chicanery. Undoubtedly, the reality of insurgency and proxy war dimensions cannot be ignored. However, policies must encapsulate all dimensions of ‘contact and engagement’ besides the military since it is the human mind and its particular conditioning that fuels conflicts. By engaging with the drivers and various actors of conflicts, particularly the youth and women, community-led organisations can attempt to tackle the issues that lead to radicalisation and recruitment in hostile conflicts like Kashmir.

When it comes to peacebuilding efforts, especially in the context of grassroots groups, a positive environment must be actualised through engagement, acknowledgement and recognition. This in turn discourages the reductive narrative of the ‘victim’ versus the ‘perpetrator’, as it closes spaces for enablement to emerge. For instance, in 2013, 15 young stone-pelters in north Kashmir were made to participate in a theatre workshop, which gave then an avenue to share their emotions and beliefs through scripting and express themselves on stage. Such neglected emotions, if let unexpressed, will fuel further grievances and may empower extremist thought.

The law enforcement agencies cannot understand these nuances of peacebuilding approaches, and so grassroots organisations that adopt such  methods can be unwittingly labelled as ‘collaborators’ and ‘supportive of anti-national elements’,  putting them at risk. Such situations arise because, within security establishments, there is no familiarity with peacebuilding organisations—what they do, their frameworks of reference and vocabulary. The gendered and mental health dimensions of the conflict are also lost on most law enforcement officers.

Research on women, peace and security informs how patriarchal structures often disempower women, forcing them to claim their agency through relational structures (as a mother, daughter, wife or sister). These gendered dynamics are played out in a conflict when one loses a male relative, especially through action by an ‘occupier or oppressor’, a narrative that coalesces with sentiments of ‘injustice (zulm) and denial of justice’. These form a lethal combination for a support base by women, who prompt and encourage ‘men’ to take revenge. When they see no scope for justice, young women are radicalised along the binary faultlines of community and social issues. But radical groups are especially intolerant towards women and their rights. They understand the power and influence of women, so they seek to control, coerce, co-opt and subjugate them<1><2><3>. Women are often drawn to the popular narratives because of the pre-existing social environment and their alienation. As such, women become the ‘silent nation’ in these conflict zones since they are the tools through which these new ‘wars’ are instrumentalised. When faced with vocal strong women leaders and movements, extremist actors strive to erase and silence them in the public arena (through trolling and targeting a woman’s agency and autonomy) because they know women will be the first to challenge their bigotry. This means they must also fear women. It is from these private and familial spaces that social narratives are sourced, often riding on extreme radical ideologies. These spaces are controlled by men who command societies, movements, politics and narratives. This is true for any extremist groups operating to establish their rule or gain political power and control. Identity and its social and political interplay are important in the experience of women in a conflict. Her sense of nationality, ethnicity, caste, religion, marital status, disability, age, sexual preferences can intersect to amplify vulnerability. She can be sexually violated, subjugated and marginalised because of her gender. Her sense of vulnerability and how intersectional identities interplay must be understood and tapped as a resource to provide unique perspectives for the establishment of peace and security in a world that is full of diversity. Does the security paradigm consider the gendered dimensions of conflict—that when young women are alienated through insensitive and abusive action, their allegiance to extremist discourse becomes a natural shift?

Perception of categorising and seeing young women and men only as victims or as perpetrators helps in constructing polarised narratives. Approaches must be built to understand the nuanced dimensions of conflict. Recruiters indoctrinate a sense of victimhood and law enforcement sees its manifestation in the perpetrator. However, there is an enabling space and enablers who need to be empowered. It is within these extremes that a counter narrative must be founded. Furthermore, enabling spaces need to find online expressions to counter violent narratives as these are the new platforms where insurgencies are being fought.


<1> Ashima Kaul, “Mothers, martyrdom, violent extremism and ‘azadi’ in Kashmir”, Peace Insight, February 12, 2019,

<2> Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Radhika Coomaraswamy, “Women Are the Best Weapon in the War Against Terrorism”, Foreign Policy, 10 February 2015.

<3> Belquis Ahmadi, Sadaf Lakhani, “Afghan Women and Violent Extremism Colluding, Perpetrating, or Preventing?”, United States Institute of Peace, November 2016.

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