I met Javed at the Raj Bagh end of the Zero Bridge in Srinagar. We walked for some time, entered a bi-lane and came to a small community of houses where some Ladakhi people stayed. Javed is from Kargil, in the Ladakh region of Kashmir a few hundred kilometres north-east of Srinagar along the Line of Control (LOC), and now teaches in a college in Srinagar. “Once upon a time Ladakhi traders used to move right across Kashmir on the one hand and into China on the other,” Javed said, “bridging the gaps. But with the creation of India and Pakistan, with borders and nations, this is no longer possible.”
In 2011 Javed established Peace Schans-Snow Leopards, a youth led initiative to convey the message of peace through the conservation of snow leopards and other wildlife species at great threat of extinction due to prolonged conflict in the region. For Javed, the now endangered status of the snow leopard, whose habitat spread across both sides of the LOC, was a political story in itself. Javed explained to me how the conflict between India and Pakistan has severely restricted the snow leopard’s habitat, just as it has for people. The conflict has forced the snow leopard to venture out of its own ‘wild’ environment into areas of human settlement, where it has started to hunt domestic cattle and occasionally also people. Farmers have begun to fear for their livelihoods and life and begun to shoot the snow leopard in defence, ultimately killing so many as to make the snow leopard an endangered species. The story of the snow leopard illustrates how politics and science are far more interconnected than we think. Javed wants to convert the LoC into a Peace Park to save the endangered species from extinction while also supporting long term peace in the region.
The uprising was in full swing in mid-2010 when Javed moved to Srinagar. Coming from Ladakh and being part of a minority community in wider Kashmir meant that Javed felt a real need for people across Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu, and also other regions in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, to speak and listen to each other with openness and trust. “Our region is a family, and nothing is going to change the current situation, until our family comes together to speak amongst themselves—person to person. But right now,” he lamented, “there is too much distrust between regions and people. I think this has been cultivated politically, along the lines of ethnic and religious differences, and through geographic isolation.” Javed continued to tell me about how the state of Jammu and Kashmir has several distinct communities, which are different ethnically and linguistically but are also isolated geographically from each other by high mountain barriers. Thus, many parts of Jammu and Kashmir exist more as closed communities without having any proper means and common space to interact with fellow citizens. Thus people inhabiting one part of the state are often blind to the lives of people in other parts of the state. Javed felt this situation nurtured mistrust, and gave rise to insecurity between Jammu and Kashmir’s different communities. Javed believed the dissolution of borders and real social communication were the two vital components that were needed for Kashmir to climb out of the mess it was presently in.
I asked Javed about the future, and he said it felt bleak, “What we need is social connectors. We need to understand our own diversity, so we can build a political future that accommodates us all.”