Veteran editor MJ Akbar who was moderating the session stole the show as he shared the stage with panelists which included prominent personalities like Basharat Peer, Rahul Pandita, Nitasha Kaul, Mirza Waheed and Swapan Dasgupta
While Peer, Pandita and Nitasha come from Kashmir, Waheed's parents live there even today and Akbar's mother hailed from Kashmir. Dasgupta in that sense was the only panelists with no real roots to the place but one who Akbar called 'an intellectual Kashmiri'.
Pandita, a well-known journalist, started off the session remembering a certain Latif Lone, a man who ran a cosmetics store in his hometown and was a big Mohammed Rafi fan. A few years after having disappeared, Pandita recollected having seen him collecting donations for a local mosque and then reading about him being shot dead.
For Pandita who writes for Open magazine and has been visiting the troubled state for work, the issue was close to his heart -- he lost a cousin to the violence in the valley. He spoke of the exodus and the killings.
Akbar, who spoke next and was the moderator of the session, pointed out that Kashmir is a very personal issue for a lot of us and that unless we keep emotions out of it, we won't be able to look at the problem, understand it and more importantly solve it.
He also pointed out that the Kashmir problem had two levels to it -- one was the nature of its political relations in the subcontinent and the other was how the state behaved towards it. "The tricky question is whether it is a demand for secession or a human rights issue," he said. "If it is secession then Indians would look at it with a different set of binoculars."
Kaul was of the opinion that what mattered was what the Kashmiris wanted. "When you Google Kashmir, the first video that shows up is one of Led Zeppelin," she said adding that perhaps I want to break free might be more apt. However, she pointed out that
for most Indians the issue is grossly oversimplified. "It is not an Indo-Pak issue nor is it a Hindu-Muslim issue," she said. "Indians are ignorant of what is happening in Kashmir."
Criticising what she called was the national rhetoric of 'Doodh maano kheer denge, kashmir maango cheer denge' Kaul said people in Kashmir want freedom from oppression, freedom to protest and a fair election reminding the audience of the rigged elections in the 80s and saying that this was where the problems really started
She also said that the talks always happen between centres of power in Delhi and Kashmir leaving people in the lurch.
Pandita seconded her argument saying that there was a lot of ignorance in Delhi about the issue. He also was amazed at how immune the young had become to violence.
Akbar jumped in and said that while secession was a romantic idea, using the rigged elections as an excuse for it was no good. "By that rule Pakistan should have seceded to 50 countries by now," he chuckled.
Mirza Waheed, who is the editor of BBC's Urdu news services, confessed that his parents were happy that he got away when he was young because 'there was so much blood'. He recollected an incident when he was speaking with his dad who told him how they had to step out of their homes at midnight to buy milk surreptitiously because of the curfew and the lack of milk supply. "All we do," he said "Is throw stones and write books."
Waheed disagreed with Kaul and said that while at its heart the Kashmir issue is an issue of the people of Kashmir it is also in a large manner an Indo-Pak issue and the fact that neither governments were doing enough to find a resolution.
"Give Kashmir a break," he said saying that a sense of fatigue was slowly creeping in with the Kashmiris.
Here, the ever-articulate Akbar said, "The only thing Pakistan and India can agree upon is that Kashmir cannot be free." He also said that any free nation is based on four non-negotiable principles: democracy, secularism, gender equality and economic equity.
Kaul however countered him and said that more than anything else the nation exists to serve its population and army being used to quell dissent doesn't really fit the definition of 'free'.