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  • The Edict

Lab Azad Hai Tere: Resistance in Kashmiri Music

By Priyanshi Prasad, UG ‘24

Music has played a significant role in the dissemination of the Kashmiri resistance message. Songs are not just used to spread awareness of the atrocities faced by mainlanders living in the heavily militarised zone, but also to advocate for freedom. The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A in 2019 inspired a new era of protest music in Kashmir which has intensified its role in the movement.

Protest music in Kashmir allows for the construction of narratives more truthful to the Kashmiri experience while combating the propaganda of the Indian government. Protest songs made by Kashmiri artists reflecting on the movement often include themes of deep mistrust of the state and generational trauma. The song, ‘I.D.’ by Kashmiri rapper and producer, Ahmer, is a prime example of music being used to express resentment and expose the truth of the Indian state’s actions on the citizens of Kashmir. The lyrics are as follows:

Libaas safed par lal kyu hai inke haath?

Tum behkana, bhadkana toh hai mann ki baat,

Roke hume har naake pe kyu ki hum galat hai inki nazron mein

The devils are adorned in white cloths

But hands soaked in our blood

With their deceptive arts, they provoke you to be violent

They stop us at every bunker without any reason, for them,

We are born terrorists

Music becomes a manner of speaking truth to power, through which artists describe their encounters with the state. Ahmer’s song concerns itself with the state’s suspicion of his identity and their aggressive profiling of the same. Hence, music becomes a way through which the on-ground reality of Kashmir can be conveyed. It is important to note that within this song itself, the state’s anxiety over the power that music yields can be seen.

Tu toh wohi hai joh gaane hai banata,

Dekha tujhe tu akhbaro mein bhi aata

Aren't you the one who makes songs about Kashmir?

I have seen you on the newspapers, they write about you

The state views the music that Ahmer creates as a threat to maintaining their power. Its anxiety of certain music cluttering the imagination of the Kashmir they wish to portray shows how music is instrumental in propagating the message of Kashmiri resistance.

In the Kashmiri freedom struggle, music has a way of entering the national consciousness even when artistic freedom is under threat. After the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, Kashmir was put under lockdown with curfews being implemented and mobile services being barred. These events inspired the song, ‘Kashmiri Bella Ciao,’ by Zanaan Wanaan, a collective of Kashmiri women who write and sing songs of resistance:

Tuhindi article

Tuhindi agreement

Na pruchuv tyem wiz

Na pruchuv aesi aaz

Keetyov dohan pyeth chu aesi haeth cheer

The Articles were yours,

The Agreements were yours,

Neither were we asked then,

Nor are you asking us now

The lyrics of the song reflect how the residents of Kashmir believed they had been betrayed by the Indian state. The lyrics make numerous allusions to the state's refusal to take into account the Kashmiri people's right to self-determination. The fact that this song is sung to the tune of the song ‘Bella Ciao,’ originally an Italian protest song with an anti-fascist theme, demonstrates how Kashmiri protest music has evolved into a means of expressing mistrust of the state. The song, which was created entirely by a collective of Kashmiri women, demonstrates the space that the arts can provide to women in the movement.

The popularity of Kashmiri protest music is catalysed by its alignment with hip-hop. In the song, ‘Kasheer,’ Ahmer sings,

I’m penning down the day of judgement

These pages burn

I’m up there in the clouds, you won’t reach

Hip hop is my worship

As evidenced above, Ahmer along with other mainstream Kashmiri artists such as MC Kash and SOS (Straight Outta Srinagar), use rap as a vehicle to rally against and spread awareness about the atrocities committed by the state. Hip hop is a globally-known genre of music and is deeply steeped in political commentary. Its history of being a genre concerning itself with giving a voice to the marginalised is a fitting manner of expression for the new generation of Kashmiri artists. It is intriguing that one of the most popular Kashmiri artists, SOS, derive their name from the movie ‘Straight Outta Compton’, a biopic about a hip-hop group rapping on police brutality and racial profiling.

Some Kashmiri artists who support the movement insist on singing in Kashmiri and Urdu as it has become a way through which the Kashmiri language can be popularised amongst the youth. Ali Saffudin in an interview with The Independant stated that “To instil pride about your language, there should be some contemporariness attached to it to get across to the youth, and at the same time, not be erased of its roots. I believe my music attaches a sense of pride with identifying as a Kashmiri.” Additionally, artist, Ahmer Javed, said in an interview with Crack Magazine, that “We never want people to call this Bollywood or Indian or Desi,” Javed says. “It’s Kashmiri.” Music, in this manner, provides a reinforcement of support for the resistance movement.

Music has also become a way through which Kashmiri women advocate for the struggle and express their anger over atrocities committed against them. Another song by the collective Zanaan Wanaan, named, ‘Duaekkaer -e-Inquilaab’ addresses the vital role women have played in the resistance movement.

Within Zanaan Wanaan’s song, ‘Kashmiri Bella Ciao,’ there are also lyrics that relate to the Kashmiri womens’ on ground experiences with the state.

Sopar ti Machil, Kunan te Poshpor

Chi ni mashmith, sanyan zehnan menz che yaad yaad yaad

Subhan shaaman diwan timan aes naad

Saen phoulwin goulaab

Sopre and Machil, Kunan and Poshpora

Haven't been forgotten

In our consciousness, they are remembered

From morning till evening

We keep calling their names

The collective uses the song to recall places where incidents of mass rape and civilian shootings had transpired. The trauma endured by Kashmiri women is voiced through these songs; rather than allowing these crimes to be forgotten and erased, they are sung into memory. Music serves as a way to construct a collective understanding of the past and as a way to speak memory into history.

Many Kashmiri artists, part of the new era of protest music, grew up in the oppressive state and use music as a means of expressing themselves and their emotions. As Frontman Zeeshan Nabi of the band Ramooz, a Kashmir-based band reportedly said to The Independent, “Making music isn’t just a passion. For some, it is a mode of survival – not just financially, but also surviving the trauma that a lot of people face, as well as generating hope. It’s a weird catharsis.” Both a method of catharsis and a kind of political commentary, Kashmiri music creates a bank of memory that pollutes the national imagination as envisioned by the Indian state.

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