The Division of Kashmir Through Political Voices

fists raised in protest
Illustration by Saad Hasib

Kashmir for many used to be a piece of heaven on Earth, but now it’s one of the most volatile and militarised zones on Earth. How did this happen? And most importantly how are it’s inhabitants coping with it?

After the partition of 1947, Kashmir has been violently contested by both India and Pakistan. Because Kashmir, a princely state, had a Muslim majority but a Hindu King, there was a conundrum as to whether it should cede to Muslim majority Pakistan or secular India. During this period of ambivalence, Pakistani militia groups attacked Kashmir which forced the King Hari Singh, to ask India for help and thus cede to India. Following this, several Indo-Pak wars have been fought and treaties signed.

The latest development was the repeal of Article 370 and 35A by the Indian Government, without any deliberation with the Kashmiri representatives, that gave semi autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Anticipating violent backlash from Kashmir and Pakistan, India stationed thousands of military personnel in Kashmir and enacted the longest communication and digital lockdown in the history of civilised democracies. Thus essentially isolating Kashmir from the rest of the world indefinitely.
In January of 2020, Internet and communication access was allowed again due to the international backlash against such unconstitutional sieges.

It was during these uncertain times, that the people of Kashmir suffered the most and started their new journey to protest to the greatest of lengths too.

Politics and literature have become inseparable in ordinary Kashmiris’ lives. With many Kashmiri politicians still under house arrest, political sympathy for Independent Kashmir has gone underground. Very few, if any at all, politicians in Kashmir speak against the atrocious situation created by the Indian Government. However, this hasn’t stopped Kashmiri public and artists from speaking up.

Kashmiri artists are continually searching for and using varied methods of art to convey their plight. The plight of Kashmir. Like in politics, in arts too the Indian Government has cracked down on artists. On accounts of ‘sowing discord’ and ‘terrorism’, many artists have been banned and are under surveillance.

‘In the last 30 years, I have never seen this kind of suppression’, says Madhosh Balhami, who had his house and countless poetry books burned down in 2018 by a scuffle between the Indian military and terrorists.
He says that he mainly remains underground along with many other writers and poets who fear to be jailed under anti-terrorism laws for their resistance literary works.

Zareef, pen name, recalls ‘In terms of political or social commentary through art, the Kashmiri tradition of Bhand Pather, or folk theatre and art performed on the streets, has showcased satirical art as dissent very well’. The communication lockdown by the government, however, doesn’t allow it anymore.

Still relentless efforts continue by fearless Kashmiri artists. One of them is Syed Areej Safvi who is on the quest to revive 150 year old art of Ladishah, which is a form of indigenous poetry storytelling, to highlight the voice of women. She critiques the government through satirical performances on YouTube, in an attempt to resist in her own ways.

Another such fearless poet is Rmuz, who is writing apology poems for future generations to come. To apologise for not stopping the abrogation of Article 370 with their last breath.

Kashmiris are not only protesting through poems and stories but also with visceral artwork that manages to pierces even the most silent ones. Inder Salim turns blood splattered pellets into eye-catching jewelleries for the onlookers to wear. He can’t find a market though, as arbitrary arrests are always a fear.

Most artwork and literary ventures from Kashmir get featured in International articles and stages, and not in Kashmir. An omnipresent fear of being banned and harassed forces them to go underground, like the famed MC Kash has, a revolutionary artist

Film industries outside of Kashmir continue to make conflicting movies on Kashmir, which often misrepresent or outright lie about the Kashmiri perspective. Films like ‘Kashmir Hamara Hain’ and ‘Dhara 370 and 35A’ were released after the princely status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked. These movies did an astounding job to legitimise the Indian Government’s military crackdown and trying to paint India as ‘the good guy’. The political smell reeking from these movies gave a very explicit news to the audience: Kashmir belongs to India and this won’t change no matter what. Following the trail, several high profile Indian actors showed public support to the government while completely disregarding the inhumane conditions that were soon to ensue in Kashmir.

The message from Pakistan however, very predictably, was the exact opposite. Music videos such as ‘Ja Chor Day Meri Waadi’ and ‘Kashmir Qo Haqq Do Bharat’, produced by ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) of Pakistan, were very direct and vehement attacks on India which have garnered huge popularity among Kashmiris. Likewise, Pakistani artists and celebrities continue to offer support and sympathy for a free Kashmir in contrast to their neighbours.

These confrontations of these two Nuclear powers will continue. Be it in the media or in trade. It’s not their voice that matters but the Kashmiri voice that does matter, but often gets ignored in matters of its own concern.
‘Soz: A ballad of maladies’ by Tushar Madav and Sarvnik Kaur’ is a documentary on Kashmir conflict that takes historical context into account and talks about the Kashmiri Point of View, and isn’t engaged in the mud throwing war like Pakistani and Indian media.

Numerous books are being written by Kashmiri writers to restore tales of these uncertain times so that the next generations aren’t robbed of it by the ongoing intellectual and cultural erasure of Kashmir by the Modi Government. ‘Muunu: A boy in Kashmir’, by Malik Sajad and ‘Curfewed Night (2009)’ by Basharat Peer narrate the mind numbing trauma and cultural massacre that Kashmir suffers from and will probably continue to suffer from because of unending human greed.

Kashmir isn’t only suffering from this ongoing assault but also from the events of the not-so-long-ago past that continues to haunt Kashmir. The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits of the 90s still continue to bleed the hearts of evergreen Kashmiri victims and literature. Siddhartha Gigoo’s ‘The Garden of Solitude’ (2010) still continues to remind Kashmir of the heart wrenching migration of Kashmir’s Hindus.

Nowadays, novels and artworks are being produced, even under traumatic and dangerous circumstances, on Kashmir by Kashmiris that talk about them and their predicament. Some write about the bloodshed and PTSD that Kashmir is a regular audience to, while outsiders ignore that to write about the enthralling Dal Lake that everyone wants a piece of. Alas, no one wants Kashmir and Kashmiris to have that piece.

Written by: Maliha Rahman

Rhyme or No Rhyme, That Is The Question

Rhyme or No Rhyme
Illustration by Saad Hasib

Now, what amount of poetic expertise
Would be ample enough – I do not know.
I know, some things are stirring in the distance –
A butterfly and a hundred such crows.
Listen to the wind, and listen closely,
The wind has a tale to tell.

Rhyme is considered as something very fundamental to poetry. The simplest way to ever describe a poem would be to call them words that rhyme. However, rhyme is not an immanent aspect of a poem. 

A huge number of people believe that the best kind of poetry is one that has some sort of rhyme. There’s no doubt that the ability to rhyme is a great talent. At the same time, not being able to rhyme is not a lacking of any kind.

With every age came a new type of poetry. There may exist a hierarchy in terms of succession, but that’s it. No one form of poetry is better than the other. 

In today’s age, the very definition of what is and isn’t poetry is not only changing but also expanding. After all, we are all poets now, we all write, we all feel. 

So, what would be the 2021 definition of poetry? Anything written from the heart that has a melody to it is poetry, or so I’d like to say.

Even though they call it a river
It’s actually a dream.

I once came across a person who said that poems have to rhyme. As they were very good at rhymes and I wasn’t, and as they felt superior to me for that very reason and I accepted it, I felt my inability to rhyme meant I could never be a good poet. 

I tried to rhyme but failed miserably. At one point, luckily so, I gave up on rhymes. I decided that I’ll write what I feel, and if it sounds good to me that will be enough. And just like that words flew out of my fingertips and started appearing on the screen in front of me.

In this city
It’s always quite quiet
You could hear the trains arriving 
Bringing lost souls to their homes
And taking aboard those who don’t have any yet.

Personally, I’m more of a fan of playing with words (not wordplay) than rhymes. I like twisting sentences, tearing down their simplicity, and bringing out something melodious. One can say that’s because I can’t rhyme. To be honest, I’m not a fan of structure altogether. That’s why I will never be writing a haiku or a sonnet. But free verse I’ll do. In fact, the popularity of free verse in today’s date is astounding. Maybe this “structure” is freeing, not restricting.

It was a sound,
Yes, it was a voluminous sound.
It came very quietly, very very quietly,
It came as the song built up itself,
It came as the words became lyrics,
It came as the lyrics filled up the brain,
It came as the brain slowly started to feel.

So, as a budding poet, should you concern yourself with rhymes? No. Not entirely.

Rhyme or no rhyme – there’s no answer to this question. In all honesty, this question doesn’t matter to me at all. And I’d like it to be the case for you too.

When I first learned about scansions, it really bothered me. Somebody dissected poems, things that existed before any rule was imposed upon them, and put forward endless rules without which, they declared, one can’t write poems. Something arbitrary was taken as a standard and now we have to live with it.

Whether it was my stupidity or my inherent reluctance, I couldn’t learn scansion. 

All of what I said so far can be taken as a postmodernist approach to poetry, or literature as a whole. Simply put, it’s about breaking down structure and rebuilding it anew, without being limited by standards and forms.

So far, I’ve only been talking against rhyme, but that doesn’t mean I’m against it. I’m only against the idea of considering only a particular style of poetry best, and the rest as something less.

One day
All that will remain of this
Is nothing. 

There are smokes on the road
In the houses on top of skyscrapers
In the eyes of those who are lost
And the worst of its kind is now soaring
From the heart of the great Amazon. 

Written by: Atanu Roy Chowdhury