Farhana Latief is a law graduate from the University of Kashmir. She has done her master’s from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and is currently pursuing her M.Phil-Phd from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). She has also worked with Association of Parents of Disappeared persons (APDP) as a researcher.
In this exclusive interview with acadman.in she spoke to us about her early life, life at the University of Kashmir, TISS, JNU and Kashmir Conflict among several other things.

Please tell us about your early life and your aspirations then.

As far as I can remember I have aspired for two different career roles in my life. At earliest of it, a teacher. But later while pursuing law, I wanted to be a Judge. The only example of a law person in my family has been my grandfather’s elder brother. But now my interest in academics could land me into teaching at some point of time, though research continues to interest me. My family has supported me through all the uncertain times and has the role in forming me into who I am by allowing me to grow independent of their choices but always helpful in feedback. My education has been in low profile schools. Family has been the first school and the continuing one.

What motivated you to pursue a career in Law?

When I finally decided to pursue Law as a subject, I somehow had come to think of it as a means of delivering institutional justice in society and I wanted to be a part of such an institution. Quite an impact of the monopoly, Indian cinema enjoys in homes. I also wanted an escape from becoming a doctor which has been a family tradition.

Could you please give us an overview of your life at the University of Kashmir? 

Life revolved between the Hostel, my department and hostel again. I was not very fond of attending lectures in there. I would hold the quality of education and my rather different expectations responsible for that. Also, my background studies were in science, and I was getting introduced to social sciences. It took me a lot of time to get adjusted to those subjects and that space. Not many share this feeling though. I still feel alien to that garrisoned place.

What did you like the most there and what you think should be changed?

Chicken Rolls in Naseem Bagh (Chinar Bagh) canteen was my only motivation to go to my department, whenever I did in the first three years… In the course of 5 years, it took me not less than 3 years to get used to that place. And by then I had moved out of the hostel. Girls hostels are prisons in Kashmir University like they are in many Asian universities. When I was living in the hostel, the biggest clamp down was on our mobility. Girls hostels were guarded with huge walls and movement was restricted after 7 in summers, and around 5.30 or so in winters. I used to feel like being in a jail. And then the food and the hygiene. Things were terrible, to say the least.

Ah, well about the change in that University, I think a lot many things. In-fact that university needs to undo itself if it cares for quality education. From structures to its ways of operation, it needs to change. But that is quite unlikely to happen. Kashmir University is a direct instrument of the state and hence the way it operates, is how it is supposed to operate, to serve the purposes of being that instrument of state.

Why did you decide to go for a master’s degree? How was your experience at TISS?

Well, by the time I was done with my BA.LLB, I was indecisive about my future course of action. That fantasy of becoming a judge was replaced through the socio-political consciousness about Kashmir. Masters was a way of buying more time for myself before settling for anything. I also felt a need by now to have access to better education which I never came across at Kashmir University, except in a few subjects taught by a couple of professors. My enrollment at TISS happened like an accident does. Long story. But, so far, education and exposure at TISS has been the best part of my educational journey. My personal process of unlearning began at TISS with wonderful faculty & friends.

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Several allegations have been made against TISS in the recent years. How do you look at it?

Whatever has been happening in TISS at the institutional and administrative level, reflects the larger crisis Education sector is facing in India largely due to the regime change.

You have also worked at TISS as a project officer. What was your role and there?

My role included Research and Advocacy mainly. This work was basically an application of the theory we pursued as part of our master’s course which was ‘access to justice.’

How did you get to know about APDP?

I got to know about the work of APDP on the issue of Enforced Disappearances in Kashmir during my bachelor’s course itself, through a workshop they had organized in Law department of Kashmir University. That influenced my choice to work with APDP when they required a researcher for their legal work after I finished my bachelors. Later after my master’s course, after I was hired by TISS, I offered to work with APDP as part of the same TISS project.

Please tell us about the few major impacts of APDP’s work. 

APDP has been able to create mass awareness about the Enforced Disappearance as a tool of the state to suppress the popular struggle of people of Kashmir for the right to self-determination. Also, APDP has been able to internationalize the issue of Enforced Disappearances through its advocacy at various levels. Its biggest impact is the recognition of its work by United Nations. But, at local level, and which I would call the biggest and most influential impact of APDPs work has been to bring the families of the enforced disappeared persons together and give them a platform for a collective voice, transforming small units into a collective, which helps them to be like a family and share the grief and loss collectively.

Why did you decide to pursue a Ph.D.?

Well, because getting into a research degree was the only way for me to discipline myself and give time to myself for more organized reading, and get skilled for more objective research projects which would help me to explore, understand and work for more complex socio-economic issues related to Kashmir. I am taking this course as a pure training to get skilled in quality research for future endeavors.

How was it topping the CSLG MPhil entrance? How did you prepare for it?

By the time I went for admission to JNU, JNU realized my rank 1 was a typographical error, and it was 2 instead. It might have been 1, if I had prepared for the two screening tests. Honestly, I had not prepared for it at all. By the time I took the written exam for JNU, my family did not want me to pursue further education in India and I was also more or less convinced to not go for it.

What would be your suggestions to those who are aspiring to crack the entrance?

How I made it through was by answering the questions related to my field, that is Law. Looks like, by then, I had achieved basic minimum expertise in my subject. Law and governance were the only subjects I had applied in, unlike many other applicants. People applying for courses need to be sure of their immediate choices.

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How have your experience been at JNU?

My experience has been good enough. Time has been tough. I reached JNU when Kashmir was in the middle of its uprising of 2016, it was tough to stay sane during the first and second semester. One of the professors was in particular very supportive and I always presumed that she would be there for help whenever I would need it. That made things a bit easy.

The image of JNU has been tarnished in the recent years. What is your take on this?

Well, Media has sold what people have wished to know and read. And then people have bought what media has shown. Vicious cycle it has been. That is how public opinion about JNU has been formed. People need to choose wisely what to read and what not to.

Several people allege that these universities are publicly funded, hence, should not be used by those who don’t even believe in India? Your Comments?

I think it needs a larger debate within India for what is public purpose, public funding, idea of India etc.

Do you believe in India? How do you feel when someone associates you with India?

Nations are not religions and ideologies which demand belief into. And I mostly choose my feelings wisely.

Is there any role of religion in Kashmir Conflict?

Kashmir conflict is a political dispute, and politics includes socio-economic and religious aspects too. How one understands those aspects is subjective to their own understanding of politics. Any attempt to reduce or associate a dispute with things without a historical context is unscholarly.

Who do you think is responsible for the situation of Kashmir?

The unwillingness of the people in power is responsible for continued suffering of the people of Kashmir. Kashmiris are at the receiving end in this conflict and  certainly want a peaceful resolution to this longest pending dispute of modern world.

What are the solutions of Kashmir conflict?

Facilitating people’s right to self-determination.

Even if independence is the only solution of Kashmir conflict, do you think joining militancy or pelting stones can achieve it in 21st century? What would be your suggestions to young students involved in these activities?

It is the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are entitled to decide a solution for themselves. So presumed solutions cannot be imposed on them. Also, it is politically incorrect to try to patronize people who have been living a struggle for 70 years only to be able to exercise their Right to self -determination. One cannot deprive such people their mental agency to decide their own means and methods of their struggle. If they think that participating into certain actions helps their cause, it is their choice. One can only analyze that choice for its merits and demerits and not decide for them what is right or wrong, good or bad for them.

There are certain people sitting in Europe, who provoke the young Kashmiris through social media to involve in anti-state activities. Would you like to comment on it?

Any assumption of provocation is an attempt to deprive the people of their mental agency. Kashmir dispute in its present form is 70 years old and people are intelligent enough to decide for themselves. Even United Nations Convention on Child Rights recognizes the mental agency of children, not to talk of the young and adults who have experienced this conflict in their everyday lives too. I don’t think social media is so powerful yet to evoke provocations on ground in a situation like that of Kashmir.

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Where do you see Kashmir after 20 years?

I am not a great visionary, but I hope by the time I am 50 years of age, the dignity and honor which people of Kashmir have been struggling for, is restored to them.

Do you consider Pakistan better than India? If yes, why?

Well, human development index can declare one country better than the other, I am ill equipped to do that. I can only analyze them in their political relationship with the State of Jammu and Kashmir and its people. However, I think Pakistan does enjoy a popular fan following in Kashmir. The reception of results Cricket matches can be used as one indicator.

What would be your message to young students across India & Kashmir?

Learn, Live and struggle to make sure others too live a dignified life.

This interview is taken by @alokanand via e-mail and edited by Prakriti. To suggest an interview, feedback, comments, work with us, write at mail@acadman.in