A Bagful Of Protest


Stone pelting may be the most talked about form of protest in Kashmir but it is the not the only one. Kashmiris have used varied forms of protest to register their dissent. Kashmir Life takes a look at some.

Kashmir has been going through a difficult phase in the last two decades and the situation forced people on to the streets frequently. The people and the state are often at loggerheads. While state uses its power to quell dissent, people find ways to vent it. From social networking site Facebook to sit ins to singing songs people have found mediums to say, what the state does not want to hear.

Protest Marches And Sit Ins…

The most common form of protest in Kashmir has been the street protests. Whenever the popular anger reaches a certain point people pour out on the streets even when the authorities use all means at their hand to suppress them. Sit ins, marches, processions people here have used all these to register protest, whenever there have been excesses.

At the start of armed militancy, a large number of people would respond to calls for rallies and marches, which would be later suppressed with force.

March towards the UN military Observers Group in Srinagar, Chrar-e-Sharief march, Eidgah were some of marches heavily attended by people.

The flow of marches was stopped after troopers opened fire on protestors killing scores in separate incidents at Zakura, Bijbehara, Hawal, Gaw Kadal and Sopore.

Even with many gory incidents the street protests continue to remain the main medium of expressing dissent. However, the street protests gained intensity during 2008 agitation.

“When there is no engagement between establishment and the people or a mechanism to redress grievances, it esults in protests results,” says human rights activist Khurram Parvaiz, “effectiveness of street demos to register protests is debatable but the fact is that it is one of the most prominent tool of expressing dissent.”

Hunger Strike
In 17th century hunger strike was used as a tool by indebted farmers against the exploitative debtors till the British banned it. It re-emerged as one of the effective methods of protest in undivided India against the British that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi sharpened. Though it existed as a mode of protest and inconsequential defiance in Kashmir, it was JKLF leader Mohammad Yasin Malik who tried to use it after he shunned militancy.

On issues Malik would usually pitch a tent in Lal Chowk and sit on a hunger strike for days. There were instances when somebody from the civil society in Delhi would fly in to convince Malik to break the fast. Once he was driven to the hospital by the police to keep him alive by infusing liquids. His last fast was reported for a day when a locality in Sopore was destroyed in an encounter between Special Operations Group (SOG) and the militants. The separatist leader once even sat on a protest hunger strike in Delhi.

But this mode of protest and defiance never reached a stage where it was taken by the Manipur activist Irom Sharmila Chanu who is on fast unto death against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. She has not taken anything voluntarily for the last one decade and is usually fed the necessary liquids through injection.

Graffiti is not new to Kashmir. But it was in 2010 when Kashmiris took to graffiti writing with a vengeance, as one of the tools of peaceful protest. If the hallmark of 2008 summer unrest was the ragda – a mix of lyrical sloganeering and rhythmic body movements, this summer graffiti was the main tool of peaceful protests. People would use the roads and wall surfaces they could reach, to write pro-independence and anti-India one-liners.

Spray paints and paint brushes were in great demand during the five-month summer agitation. Such graffiti would be found in almost all parts of the Valley and the most creative ones on the virtual world walls of Facebook and other such sites. On roads and walls in public spaces, Go India go back was the most popular with the pro-independence demonstrators. This particular graffiti was coined allegedly by young Christian-missionary-school-educated separatist leader Masrat Alam. Many political analysts credit him with popularizing graffiti in Kashmir.

However, the popularity of graffiti proved a headache for the authorities. When Government of India deputed an all party delegation of parliamentarians to visit Jammu and Kashmir in September to assess the ground situation and help cool tempers in the Valley, the state government had to employ scores of workers round the clock to clear the Airport Road of anti-India and pro-secession graffiti. A humungous task!

A month after the curfew-shutdown-curfew-chalo (protest march)- curfew cycle ebbed, most of roads and walls have been cleaned up. But the virtual world continues to host such graffiti.

For last over four hundreds years, says writer Zareef Ahmad Zareef, humour became the last resort of a society that lost almost everything. When Mughals came and plundered the entire treasury of the Chak dynasty and took it to Delhi, Kashmiris could do nothing. “The people then used to go to their roof tops during nights and shout slogans – Sonus Roupus Korum Dugal, Mughal Lagim Balayay,” says Zareef. “The history remembers those protestors as Dilawar’s.” The tradition somehow continues till date.

During the last twenty years of conflict some writers used humour extensively to depict the prevailing situation. The rise of mass media helped them reach wider audiences.

Broadcasters Talha Jehangir and Ghulam Ali Majboor emerged as a two-member band and dominated the scene for the last two decades till Majboor died of cancer last year. They wrote their scripts and performed as well which helped them to evolve this art to a much organized form.

Humour, says Talha comes out of stress. “When you are tense and there is a situation of helplessness and desperation, there is humour,” he said, adding, “Whatever we wrote and delivered in last two decades was nothing outside the situation that was order of the day and part of it has already become folklore.”

In one of their performances they start the skit with one saying: Asalam-u-Alaikum. The other responded: Wa Alaikum Salam, Ya Ahlil Qaboor. This signified the state of life that the performers thought was as good as death.

Talha says the situation in Kashmir created a demand for humour. “Experts and studies suggesting that Kashmir needs to smile because that was one of the easy short cuts to eat a bit of depression they lived day and night so humour and stir art forms were encouraged and remained always in demand,” he asserted.

Personal Conversations
Two people talking in private and discussing events surrounding them, might not seem a big deal. And it should not be. But inhabitants of Kashmir, over centuries have been so brutalized that discussing politics not essentially in line with the establishment’s view, even privately, is a big leap. In a place where a police officer’s name strikes fear decades after his retirement and demise, it surely is … something.

Qadir Ganderbaly as Superintendent of Police pushed out many people, who would dare to talk, or think, against the establishment from their home to the other side of the LoC. In those times listening to Radio Pakistan would mean a call from the police or time in prison – without trial.

Now people talk, even when the government screens all telecommunications –tapping phones, reading mails and monitoring internet chats. Discussing politics is not a fringe activity anymore, it is mainstream discourse. And it is ever-expanding.

Legal Battles
At the peak of the militancy authorities directed police not to lodge any cases against the security agencies. It was being implemented throughout Kashmir. But there were people who went on to defy this, in some instances at a cost.

In Nadihal village, when a boy was detained and never came back, the father went to the police that refused to register a case. Eventually court intervened.

Finally when the father went to the SHRC and got a direction for investigation, the security agencies created a situation that he had to seek police security. He did not get his son back but by registering defiance he created an example.

Parveena Ahanger’s son disappeared in the custody of the National Security Guards (NSG). She pursued the case and created an example by making her case perhaps the only one that was debated the world over. She now heads the APDP.
Masooda Parveen fought a protracted battle in the court to get the killers of her husband punished however the apex court ruled in favour of the security forces. Resident of Chandhara village near Pampore, her advocate husband Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Regoo was kidnapped and allegedly murdered jointly by the army and the Ikhwanis (counterinsurgents). Though her battle consumed her energy since 1998 besides bringing up her kids in a very hostile environment, she has not given up the resolve to fight. Her fighting spirit keeps her going.

Going against the state sponsored militia was more dangerous and daring. But there were people who did. Right now, in three cases, trial led to indictments. This encouraged people that eventually led to a series of litigations in which the families identified a number of ‘renegades’ for abduction and killing of their kin. One of them is Zahoor Ahmad Mir, a resident of Brein Nishat who went to police and to the court against Ghulam Mohammad Lone alias Papa Kashtawari of Pampore for abducting and slaying his aged father Ali Mohammad in June 1996. Recently notices were issued by the court against many ‘renegades’ including Qasim Khar.

Aga Shahid Ali gave Kashmir an address by his poem, ‘A country without a post office’. He used his poetry to introduce Kashmir and its sufferings to the world.

The direct expression of conflict is often impossible for poets, says Kashmiri poet and satirist Zareef Ahmad Zareef. Calling present-day Kashmir “a virtual hell”, he says: “It’s always difficult to write freely. There is always a feeling of scare howling around. It’s hard for poets to write in these tough times. People read between the lines.”

He says that the present situation demands documentation of events and poetry goes beyond an immediate reaction and records of the present, as it lends an emotional and moral support to the people with a hope for a new dawn.

While referring to his quatrains(Rubaiyat), which he has penned down in the past five months of unrest dedicated to the political uncertainty which took around 112 lives mostly youngsters, he says, “I don’t compose my quatrains intentionally. Emotions are stirred somehow.”

Music transcends barriers but in Kashmir where it could be a very popular tool to register the protests, most of the singers avoid songs which could ruffle a few feathers.  And those who have dared to sing about it had to face tough situations.

“We are facing a lot of problems. A few months back I recorded a song, which later created problems,” said a singer who refused to be named.

“We can’t take risks. We want to sing about what is happening here, but can’t” he added.

Despite the odds the singer is releasing an album ‘Kafan’. Another song sung by a singer duo is Zindi Rozi Bapat Chui Maraan…written by Rehman Rahi which is related to the Kashmir conflict.

Waheed Jeelani, a renowned singer of the valley says his coming album ‘Dagg-the pain’ is about the disappeared persons.

Those who sing about the conflict, however, have to be ready for the consequences.  “We never know what will happen. The authorities can treat us whichever way they want. I don’t know whether they will allow me to release my album,” says Waheed Jeelani.

Rap is new to Kashmir, used by some youngsters to register their protests online. They are using this genre to tell about the killings, disappearances, fake encounters and murders in Kashmir.

These rappers are slowly catching the attention worldwide. Young rapper MC Kash’s ‘I protest’ became a hit on music website, ReverbNation.  The song is both a protest and remembrance of summer unrest which claimed 112 lives. The rap songs that talk about the conflict are: Revolution, I protest, the resistance anthem, the story of a youngster and the moment of truth.


In the decades of militancy, the theatre in Kashmir has been on decline. A famous playwright and dramatist says that It needs “a bit of moral courage to speak the truth”.  Not many dramas or plays have come up which portray the conflict, but there are exceptions.

Noted dramatist Mohammad Amin Bhat did make a few plays inspired by the conflict. These include Naad, Identity Card and White paper – inspired by the custodial killings in Ganderbal.

“While talking about something we don’t take sides, our plays are just artistic expression or analysis of truth,” said Bhat.

The risks of speaking up certain things here are greater. “If I speak the truth, the society should be able to defend me, in case it annoys someone,” Bhat said.

There are some plays which highlight the plight of the Kashmiris like Ye kaisi Aag, Zamanai Pok ni Hamdam and Bazaar wuchmai Tamashai all written and directed by Nissar Naseem. Another play written by Shafiq Qureshi called Nagara rozi wazaan shows how Kashmiris have survived through all these years of turmoil. Malkheash Waati Zaroor, written by Syed Yaqoob Dilkash is a play based on the unclaimed bodies killed in encounters.

The advent of web 2.0 flooded the cyber world with user generated content, blurring the lines between the publisher and the user. The world of mass communication changed forever. Kashmir has had its share too.  Perhaps before Kashmiri netizens became politically active on Facebook or blogs, the video sharing site Youtube was being experimented.

Videos showing police brutality and marches of freedom that would usually get filtered out on the national media, started appearing on the site. Despite the limits of high speed internet access Kashmiri netizens not only began to upload raw videos, but starting innovating. So we had collages of still images and videos mixed with powerful song and musicals catching the attention of the youth.

Not many were as popular as the remix of Irish singer Chris de Burg’s “The Revolution”. The revolutionary lyrics mixed with powerful images of Kashmir conflict became a hit with the Kashmiri netizens by early 2008. Interestingly 2008 started a chapter of mass public uprisings in Kashmir beginning with the Amarnath land row agitation. And youtube became a popular carrier of Kashmiri videos – of police brutalities, protests – agitations, life under curfews. Early this year, The FIFA official Song Waka Waka remixed with Kashmiri images became popular. Youtube was also used by separatists Masrat Alam to send out his video messages, when the state stopped local media from carrying it this year.

Blogging, Networking
If there is something that rivals stone pelters and protests on Kashmir streets, it is the Kashmir’s e-generation, who have added a new dimension to Kashmiri resistance. Blogging, networking, and posting videos, the e-generation has not only dared the state, but also changed the image of the Kashmiri protests internationally. The most popular tool has been the social networking site Facebook. Kashmiri netizens have used Facebook to discuss the situation, share news (especially under siege) and voice their protest. “I Protest” written on a black background was the popular Facebook profile of many Kashmiris during the 2010 summer agitation as police and CRPF went on killing protestors (112),  mostly  children, one after another. Facebook users would post pictures of the dead, besides updates on protests. They share links of news, blog posts, and videos. Besides, there are a good number of popular pages like Aalaw, Kashmir, Citizens of Kashmir where users share news and views, or the ones like Anjuman-e-Himayat Sangbazan, which take a more pro-active political stance. There are also bloggers who regularly write about Kashmir’s politics and situation.

Kashmir has not been romanticized throughout the world as have been Tibet and Palestine – two places where people have somewhat similar aspirations like Kashmiris. Many attribute Kashmir’s failure to appeal to the conscience of the liberal or the left constituencies, to non-availability of books on the conflict by indigenous writers, in English. Basharat Peer, a local writer, however, changed that equation…to some extent. His Curfewed Night was received well. Almost all South Asia watchers and policy makers have read it. It made to the New Yorker’s list of reviewers’ favourite books from 2010, an honour it also received from The Economist. A local narrative was long overdue and Peer brought one to the world.

Many young men in Kashmir are trying to write books on Kashmir. Another young man, Wahid Mirza has already completed a book, which will be released in the UK and the US.

That does not mean Kashmiris have not written books on the uprising or the events that occurred during the last two decades. A collection of short stories in Kashmiri Ya paer wala Taplu by Rahim Rehbar who lost his brother in the conflict, is a beautifully woven ode. But even beautifully written stories don’t have an impact when others can’t read them. In the globalised world, Kashmir’s literature has started to arrive. Welcome!


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