A dispatch from America: ‘I too am a witness’

Kashmiris living in America lately experienced the agonised situation at home through playwright Arshad Mushtaq’s play ‘Bea Chus Shahid’. As an audience in the Third Annual Kashmiri Gathering of North America (KGNA), a young Kashmiri-American summarises his experience on the theatrical performance and panel discussion.

As Kashmiris living in America, we have two main problems concerning our identity: the struggles that come with being a person of colour, and the perpetual state of suffering in our homeland. It becomes increasingly important, in such a situation, for us to remind ourselves of our identity.

The Third Annual Kashmiri Gathering of North America (KGNA) served this purpose well, allowing over 500 Kashmiri Americans to meet and spend time as a community. Over the three-day event, however, one thing stood out to me: A performance of the Kashmiri playwright Arshad Mustaq’s play ‘Bea Chus Shahid – I am the witness’.

It was a message to young Kashmiris like me in America.

Nahida Nazir who is a doctor-based in LA adapted the play, and played the main character.

The play begins with a greying lady talking to herself. She carries a huge mailbag. It slowly unfolds that she is either the land of Kashmir or even a Kashmiri mother carrying letters. The letters are the personal stories of Kashmiris, and the play re-enacts the stories in those letters.

The main event in the play is the woman giving the bag of letters to a younger Kashmiri American man, who looked a few years older than I am. Yet I could identify with him fully. The exchange is symbolic.

When the Kashmiri woman gives the letter to the young man, it symbolizes an elder Kashmiri passing on her experiences and stories to the younger Kashmiris who may or may not have grown up in the valley. This is critically important. As the culture of Kashmir and Kashmiris themselves are constantly under attack, so remembering one’s heritage is necessary for the preservation our identity.

To me, as a young Kashmiri-American boy, the play symbolizes a metaphorical “passing of the torch”, from the old generation to the new. It reminds us of the dispute back home, and how we must never forget it. These stories are our identity.

As Kashmiris, our identity is defined by how we are constantly under attack as a people. As the problem prolongs and our generation of young Kashmiris grows older, we must be the ones who carry on the stories of our people, our culture and the spirit of Kashmir with us and have a strong sense of who we are.

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While the play focused on the topic of being a Kashmiri, I’m reminded of a panel conducted by Daisy Khan, a Kashmiri-American author with Ather Zia, an anthropologist and a poet, that focused on the Kashmir issue, and how we rethink and revisit our history and writing about Kashmir. The panel focused on a book, “Resisting Occupation in Kashmir”, co-edited by Haley Duschinski, Mona Bhan, Cynthia Mehmood and Ather Zia.

Throughout the panel, I could see the pain in the audience’s eyes as the two panelists were talking about the history of Kashmir, the horrors and the atrocities committed against the Kashmiri people.

The panel provided important insight on the Indian politics in Kashmir. It was a reminder that the conflict affects all of us wherever we are, and it’s critical to develop a full understanding of it, if our generation is to find a solution for it.

When the floor was open for questions, I could see the beating heart of the Kashmiri people as they stood up to ask questions or comment on issues that their homeland faces.

To see Kashmiris speaking for their roots and region when the gathering had been nearly void of such talk was refreshing, and a reminder to never forget our home.

The discussion at the panel was informative, and when the play was performed on the third night of KGNA, the story of Kashmir came alive in front of me.

Personally for me, the play and the panel brought together what my fellow Kashmiris are facing everyday and why it needs to change.

While the celebrations were underway at KGNA, a Kashmiri teen was killed in Pulwama. His own doctor father who was on duty at the hospital identified his body and pronounced him dead on arrival.

As the basic human rights of Kashmiris are violated and their just demand for self-determination is suppressed, it becomes a personal responsibility for all of us, wherever we are situated to remember and speak up; because we are witnesses.

Yes, it was about Kashmir, which made all of us present there to assert, “Ase che sarey Shahid.”

Ali Ziyad is a 14-year old Kashmiri-American. He aspires to work in journalism in his future.


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