The Taxi Takes on Kashmir

Guest Post by Megha Rawat of STEP – Standing Together to Enable Peace

After weeks of preparation for Jashn E Aman (Celebration of Peace) 2012 I got excited about welcoming 25 students from Delhi and 25 students from Kashmir to the 4 day residential camp in Srinagar, Kashmir. Determined to ‘Find Common Ground’, the theme for this year’s annual Peace festival, the team arrived in awe of the beauty of Kashmir but exhausted from the long journey they had undertaken from New Delhi. We had planned workshops in theatre, photography, media and peace education for both teachers and students who were participating from around India. STEPS’s partnership with The Taxi Takes on the World was the focus of the media workshop. We would be training the youth in documentary film, social media, citizen journalism and other skills which would then lead to their filming inside taxis in Kashmir. We had a long road ahead! The students from Kashmir were supposed to join us on September 21st, The International Day of Peace but unfortunately the unrest caused by the viral video, ‘Innocence of Muslims’ around the world dampened the atmosphere in Kashmir also. Most of the people we were expecting couldn’t make it to the program due to the curfew that was announced. Internet connections and mobile phone networks were jammed and things only barely began to settle down in the city towards the evening. Inspite of the chaos and curfew the spirit of the participants triumphed and we went ahead with our plans. With participants eager to explore Kashmir, we had to exercise caution traveling around due to the curfew on the streets and the possibility of violence. We are extremely thankful to the people who joined us on that day despite all odds. After a choppy start the festival did finally get underwa.y

The culmination of each of the workshops was a presentation that was to be made by each of the groups on the work they had done through the camp. Nothing could have prepared us for what we heard from each of the participants in this time. The initial feeling of doubt and suspicion regarding our motives for being in Kashmir was replaced by faith and empathy, with which came ease in sharing personal stories filled with both anger and sorrow. As part of The Taxi Takes on Srinagar, the youth spent the day out on the streets without any supervision and documented stories and conversations with people. The camaraderie in the group grew with this experience. The feedback I got was that everyone instantly connected with the concept and seamlessly started chatting and filming inside the taxis. The Kashmiri students would take on the role of translators when the need arose. Some students would naturally take over as the journalists asking questions, while some others did both the filming and interviewing. Also, the taxis in Kashmir are larger, almost like shuttles, seating roughly 6-8 people including the driver. So many a times the other passengers got intrigued with the filming and conversations and opened up and gave their own takes on the issues being discussed.  The conversations that the youth managed to have and film as part of ‘The Taxi Takes on Srinagar’ has given all of them a fresh perspective on the issues affecting the common man in Kashmir. In some cases it confirmed their hunch and at other times the talks inside the taxis revealed another perspective to the issues that they had not considered.

The festival gave the students and teachers insights into Kashmir which they would otherwise never get from Mainstream media. Kashmiri students welcomed the others into their houses and gave each of them a real taste of Kashmiri hospitality which was deeply appreciated. And when the festival finally commenced the Kashmiri students refused to go home but stayed with our team and escorted us to the bus station at 2 am. I’ll never forget the image of them waving goodbye as our bus rolled down the road towards the foothills. And so it was that the team departed from Srinagar on the 26th of September, 2012 with heavy hearts but with many accomplishments under our belt and the promise to meet again the next year in  2013. We continued our festival Jashn E Aman in New Delhi until just recently with regular showcases of the work done by the participants in Srinagar. ‘The Taxi Takes on Sringar’ have been screened in various venues in Delhi just as the work of the photography group has been converted into a traveling photo exhibition. The work of other groups and reports will soon be available on STEP’s online magazine, The Jester. We are happy to say that we conquered the road less traveled of peace building in Kashmir.

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