Imposed Identity

Sana B?g
Recently on an online forum on Kashmir, a colleague of mine pointed out that Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper referred to Kashmir as “Indian-Administered Kashmir” and not “Indian-Occupied Kashmir.” This sparked a discussion online, some stating that it is shocking that a paper as “reputed” as Dawn would use such a term, and others stating that newspapers such as this one have routinely flip-flopped between terms such as “Indian-Administered Kashmir”, “Occupied Kashmir” and “Indian Kashmir.”  

There have been bigger, more established media organizations guilty of having discordant terms to define Kashmir as well. To me, this issue brings a more complex question to the surface. For years, Kashmiris have looked at someone else, someone from the outside to define who they are. How do Kashmiris want to be referred to in the media, and in the global political discourse? Why do Kashmiris need to look towards a Pakistani newspaper, or an Indian TV channel, or an American politician for that definition? Do Kashmiris realize that many of the definitions of Kashmir are those reflecting an outsider’s approach to the region?

This uncertainty about one’s identity is not just confined to the Kashmiri people—Turkey has had its share of identity problems when fighting for membership into the European Union.  It has long been in an ambivalent position—considered too “Muslim” to be part of Europe, and too “European” to be part of the Middle East. The country first submitted an application to accede to the European Union in 1987, and had to wait another twelve years before being officially recognized as a “candidate for full membership.” The process, in the event that it is in Turkey’s favor, is likely to take at least another decade to complete. But the aftertaste from the entire experience would arguably take much longer to wash off.

I believe that Kashmiris need to continue their efforts to assert their identity, and develop it in such a manner that media organizations and others look to the Kashmiri definition of Kashmir and use that as reference. There are many potential starting points upon which to build that definition—geographical, historical, cultural, physiological or strategic.

But a conscious decision to create such a definition is imperative. One such step in that direction is for Kashmir to develop its own independent media, established, with set standards. Political scientists have opined that “it is through interaction with each other and with outsiders that individual and group identities are constructed.” Perhaps when Kashmiris step out of the shadow of someone else’s definition, they can truly create their own.

Sana B?g has been a broadcast journalist for the past ten years in the United States. She currently teaches television and radio journalism at IUST, Awantipora. 

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