The Value of Culture in Conflict – Investigating the Sustainable Livelihood Generation for Craftswomen in Azad Kashmir (Pakistan)

The Value of Culture in Conflict – Investigating the Sustainable Livelihood Generation for Craftswomen in Azad Kashmir (Pakistan)

Craftsman in Srinagar, Kashmir

By Dr Neelam Raina

This research proposes linkages between conflict, poverty, unemployment and culture and development. It examines the relevance of culturally significant practices to the reconstruction of a conflict zone. This interdisciplinary project allows us to connect creative home-based workers who are largely seen as peripheral to development economics, and on the fringes of formal employment and contributors to GDP; to the larger notions of peace building, poverty spirals and conflict theory through culturally significant, socially relevant practices. The project examines how economic empowerment and socio-economic rights of women could be promoted and protected through training interventions – allowing them to be stakeholders in the reconstruction of their communities. Thus the project is cross-disciplinary as it connects arts and humanities and the social sciences.

The design of the project, and its execution plan allows us to use a co-design and co-deliver approach to research and training with stakeholders and end users in the third sector. This project is built around stakeholders/beneficiaries and thus is highly collaborative with a non-academic partner and third sector members participating in it.

The project looks at the material social practices through which women reproduce themselves on a daily and generational basis and through which the social relations and material bases of capitalism are renewed to understand both the costs of conflict and the connections between vastly different sites of production. Focusing on processes of social reproduction (Kofman and Raghuram 2015) allows us to address questions of the making, maintenance, and exploitation of a fluidly differentiated labor force, the productions (and destructions) of nature, and the means to create alternative geographies (Katz, 2002).

The project is based in Azad Kashmir – which remains a contested territory with fluctuating conflict. The Neelum Valley, which is a part of Azad Kashmir, and the focus of this study, is on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. The Indian government sees Azad Kashmir as Occupied Territory, as depicted by Indian political maps. Pakistan, however, sees India as an illegal occupier of (Indian) Kashmir. The Line of Control is volatile and prone to active conflict at fairly regular intervals. Changing governments and agendas have left this area, difficult to access, document, and write about. Data about Kashmir, on both sides of the border, remains limited, unreliable and controlled by government bodies and their respective interests. Remoteness of territory, geography and climate – make this area further challenging, yet worthy of studying. The high risk, the related high security, access to physical spaces, relevance of local know-how and terrain are all aspects of the project that make it challenging, however they have been researched and planned for and project therefore allows for the higher degrees of risk.

Most research emerging from the region focuses on the politics of the region but does not address or comment on the current socio-economic and cultural status of Kashmir. It is this division of subjects and disciplines that this project hopes to overcome. Indeed this present study is unique as research into post conflict Kashmiri crafts from the perspective of the participant makers has never been done before.  The longer-term ambition of the project rests in the potential collaboration of craftswomen on either side of the India/Pakistan Kashmir border, allowing for exchange of knowledge – both tacit and anecdotal about the lived realities of a low intensity ongoing conflict.

Dr Neelam Raina’s research explores the links between culture, conflict, poverty and development. Her doctoral research analyzed this from the perspective of Muslim women in post-conflict Kashmir and the role crafts plays in generating income for them. Crafts and working within them have changed the lives of women who have borne the impact of the conflict in Kashmir: their new and changed roles as head of their families and income earners has had deep repercussions for them and their families.

Dr Raina’s research interest lies within the understanding of the potential role of design and culture in economic development of conflict areas, with a special focus on women. Conflict areas and their presence within the broader zone of disaster recovery and reconstruction have been an area of interest and debate that emerged from her doctoral research. She is keen to explore the mechanisms that govern donor priorities while approaching reconstruction, and is also keen to explore the links between ethno-cultural identity, its economics and its importance to peace building and reconstruction.