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The PhD Diaries: Identities in Transformation

The PhD Diaries is a series of pieces written by PhD candidates who work in areas associated with the Identities in Transformation research theme. Over the course of several weeks, they will examine their relationship with their research and how it has changed them. Nandini Gupta is a PhD candidate at The Irish School of Ecumenics

Tracing those “Unknown” Pathways of Silence

When asked by King Lear late at the night on the cliffs: “How do you see the world?”. The blind man Gloucester replied “I see it feelingly”.

My research on the history of Kashmir and its women, which enumerates ceaseless stories of pain and human misery, is also an attempt, like the blind Gloucester, to see this world with feelings. A confounding question that I have often asked myself is this: Why even after living in my country (India) for 25 years was I not able to see that the people of Kashmir are living in the naked horrors of conflict and torment from the last two decades? My knowledge of their history has always remained alienated from their lived realities, realities which have made me question every “metanarrative” that was inculcated in my being since childhood. Their history is a redundant tale of the duel between the brutal encounters of militants and military, where the cost of both the victory and defeat is the lives of their loved ones.

However, another aspect, which this picture of a girl peeping beyond the confinement of barbed wires narrates, is their courage to look beyond these barbed wires of subjugation and torment. A little girl opening the door amidst the environment of enmity and violence is symbolic of a hope for survival and freedom that has been lurking in the hearts of these people. It comes as an opportunity to feel this unsurpassable will for change through the minds of Kashmiri women.

The political activism of Parveena Ahanger, also known as the “iron lady of Kashmir” and a nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, has been a guiding light, and personal conversations with her have urged me towards introspection about my own sense of freedom and how my identity as an Indian have often restricted me from vocalizing my opinion about Kashmir. This “self” of an obedient citizen has taken away my own sense of “self” that always wanted to feel for the vulnerabilities of the people in Kashmir.

Therefore, the course of my research has come as an opportunity to create, un-create and de-create that lost sense of “self” and an endeavour to become what has not been imagined or perceived yet. Following this premise, I have also come to exemplify what Donna Haraway theorises as “situated knowledges” that allow us to “elaborate specificity and difference and the loving care people might take to learn how to see faithfully from another’s point of view” (Haraway, 1988, p. 583). These situated knowledges made me realise the importance of seeing the world from someone else’s eyes. My every step is a peek of that unwitnessed world which exemplifies the unflinching spirit of challenging what Henry David Thoreau suggested as the “true foundation of liberty”.  I have learnt the value of having a voice which could pierce through the various layers of conformity embodied in our identities as a “default gene”.  It has also taught me to have trust in the unfathomable power of individual courage which brings entropy to even the greatest “Ozymandias” of human civilization.   In other words, my research has been a journey of self-actualization where I have learnt:

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
(~ Audre Lorde)

Nandini Gupta

Nandini Gupta is a PhD candidate at The Irish School of Ecumenics. Nandini is an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholar and an Andrew Grene Scholar in Conflict Resolution supported by The Conflict Resolution Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Her research is preoccupied with the role of women in investigating the importance of political identity in post-conflict reconstruction and the agency of unarmed political collaborators in bringing out the waves of sustainable change and practices of inclusion. Nandini has previously worked as a research assistant for H2020 “Pericles”, an EU funded project and currently working with The European research project “PAVE”.