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Cover Story

A Guggenheim for Kashmir


I am not in Kashmir now. I have not been there since the spring, but every day emails come in from those I am lucky enough to be working with there, dedicated doctors and psychiatrists who are at the other frontline of the conflict. One of these recent emails read: "I am in despair now at this calendar of violence we have been given . . . it means that we cannot get to see our patients. I am so filled with sadness and feel, too, that we doctors will soon be needing counselling because of what it is we are having to deal with all the time. "
In most parts of the world, every psychiatrist is required to have a psychiatrist or therapist who looks after them, checking if they are able to handle the process of treating the layers of trauma they deal with. In Kashmir, the sheer volume does not allow for this kind of secondary care even if there were psychiatrists to watch over those who are treating the mental scars of this apparently intractable situation. In the psychiatric outpatients' clinics in Srinagar, it is standard for each doctor to see between 200-300 patients per day. Clinic hours usually run for about four hours. This means that if there are 300 patients at the clinic, each one will get less than one minute with a doctor. How much can any doctor, regardless of her talent, ability and sense of vocation, really achieve in less than a minute when trying to establish how best to heal a mind that has been fractured by a constant state of fear?
Why does it go on? Why is there no end to it?
These two questions are the ones that I am asked most frequently when talking about Kashmir to audiences outside the state, particularly in Europe and the US, where the idea of Kashmir is so distant - and still steeped in images of soft green beauty. After more than 30 years of watching Kashmir's story unfold, both inside the state and from the outside - but always from the position of being an outsider, however long I may stay - there is a word that keeps churning around time and again (already used in this piece). Intractable. How often have we seen the words 'intractable' and 'Kashmir' in the same sentence? They sit together, scattered throughout the world's print media, an ugly marriage of two seemingly inseparable words.
But why intractable? What creates this state of intractability? There are libraries of answers, volumes arguing the politics and the history, the apportioning of blame, the tilt of history one way or the other, each point of view backed by brutal examples.
Intractability in conflict is the result of the cycle of violence. When it is being explained, this cycle is usually drawn as a circle, its stages written in like the numerals of a clock, marking off the destructive progress. It begins with an initial act of violence. The next stage is shock. Then comes grief. Then anger. And then the anger triggers bitterness. This leads to retaliation. And so, another act of violence takes place. The circle - this is Kashmir. The cycle spins. Intractable again.
But the cycle can be broken. The method of interruption is applied in much of basic psychology when treating victims of violence and trauma. The cycle is broken before it gets to the stage of anger. The rage that is building is dissipated. If an individual is being treated, this could mean that the nature of fury is examined, its outcomes worked through, highlighting the deadlock that will be created by reacting to violence with more violence. The energy of that fury is channeled in a different direction by outlining alternative outcomes, ones that are nonviolent, that portray a possible and positive future.
Kashmir is once again moving with speed through the cycle, and the same responses are being used that have continually exacerbated violence for the past 20 years. To make the intractable tractable requires a shift in both point of view and response. Both of these things require strong leadership and a creative surge. The first can be supported by establishing a police force that is wholly trusted by the people to keep the civil peace, that is not corrupt, whose ordinary policeman and officers are well paid enough not to have to seek 'mithai'.
An example of the healing effect of the second point, the creative surge, is Bilbao in Northern Spain. The Basque separatist movement ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning Basque Homeland and Freedom) operates in both Spain and France, across the whole Basque region. ETA sees Bilbao as its capital, and the city was designated as the capital of the Basque Autonomous Region during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Due to the frequency of ETA's attacks and kidnappings in Bilbao, the city's economy was suffering. And then one of the world's most extraordinary modern arts museums was built there. The Guggenheim Bilbao was opened to the public in 1997. This iconic titanium-sheathed building by the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry has become an international destination for contemporary art, particularly Spanish modern art. Since the museum opened, Bilbao's economy has grown and the level of attacks has dropped significantly. The past 13 years in Bilbao since the museum's opening are referred to by many as the time of 'the art ceasefire. '
Bilbao may seem like a singular example, but it illustrates that the paths to peace are not just drawn up by politicians and generals. I chose to give the example of an art museum in another country and region with a separatist history because, like the Basque region, Kashmir is a place of artists and artisans, poets and writers. Creativity can be healing, and good civil governance can act as the bedrock of this kind of recovery.

Hardy, the author of In the Valley of Mist, has been running a mental health project in Kashmir with local and international doctors, psychiatrists and therapists

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