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.