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Meet The Young Kashmiris Who Are Using Art, Music And Poetry Over Guns To Protest

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By Aatreyee Dhar:

If you are under the glaring assumption that Kashmir is synonymous with youth expressing dissent through violent protests sparked by contentious politics, you are missing out on artistic activism that is turning into quite a spectacle.

“Someone like me in the ’90s would have picked up a gun; 20 years later I picked up a guitar with the same ideology — to resist.” – Ali Saifuddin, a 24-year-old guitarist, paints a healing side to his story through music.

Just like Ali, a handful of students who are a part of the short film “In The Shade of Fallen Chinar”, amplify their voices in the conflicted valley seeking asylum in art, music, and photography.

Meet A Kashmir That Paints A Fallen Tree

The fallen Chinar tree among 600 standing Chinar trees in the picturesque campus of  Kashmir University became the centre for rebellion without any political affiliations as Qazi Khytul Abad along with other students gathered around the tree painting on the log and installing murals.

In The Shade of Fallen Chinar
Stills from the short film where students discuss their artwork

Grounded in a flicker of hope that art can finally bring a change which decades of the uprising have failed to, Abyad still remembers the days when their brief amalgamation resulted in their share of artwork becoming a powerful weapon.

Using art as a medium for emotional release, the students of the university started a fortnightly magazine by the name Mizraab which refers to any small piece of plastic or metal used to strike the strings of a local musical instrument known as Rabaab.

In The Shade of Fallen Chinar
The dead Chinar tree has transformed into a canvas for murals

The main purpose was to stir the creative minds of the youth with the failing press and the inability to exercise the freedom of speech and expression.

Sadly, the publication of Mirzaab was discontinued after the death of Burhan Muzzafar Wani which sparked violent protests resulted in high casualties.

Meet a Kashmir That Is the Sound Of Soulful Music

“Nobody believed in me,
Nobody to trust me,
It feels like every single cop is
Here to bust me
What were you thinking?
I’d Say Come Here and Arrest Me?
I am not freaking doing that
Go ahead you can test me.”

The portrayal of anger and anguish by Mosam, a 24-year old rap artist from Kashmir University, suggests how the forum of artists evolved into a small movement when the conflicts in the valley were at its peak.

Withstanding the fact that Kashmir is linked with political overtones in every sphere, the baggage that comes with it is the need to feel the presence of art as an essential element to express their witness to curfew, militancy, and violence since childhood.

In The Shade of Fallen Chinar
Stills from the short film where musicians are engaged in their jam sessions

These faces that are not covered under mainstream narratives nevertheless choose to walk with their heads held high. Another guitarist, Ali Saifuddin loudly thinks about how he made the decision to pick a guitar instead of a gun during the 1990’s when anyone else would have chosen otherwise.

In The Shade Of Fallen Chinar
Ali Saifuddin strumming his guitar to the tune of Kashmiri Sufi songs

Meet A Kashmir That You Forgot Ever Existed

As the film slowly segues into seamless discussions of different students about their artwork, the air of peace slowly turns into a fragile ending. After the directors Shawn Sebastian and Fazil NC were done with their shooting project, Burhan Wani was killed inciting violence that left more than 15,000 people injured and more than 90 people dead.

In The Shade of Fallen Chinar
A student scribbling intricate designs on a wooden board

Kashmir University was shut down in the crossfire between the Indian Government and the locals that resorted to the usage of tear gas and pellet guns to control the protests. After the clamp-down on the artist’s movement, the makers reveal how they failed to contact the students that have been cast in the 16-minute film.

In The Shade of Fallen Chinar
The painted logs bristling in the campus of Kashmir University

Whatever remained was a recorded memory or an alternative narrative where a section of youth striving to advocate peace through their sketches, lyrics of the song or beautiful photographs marked a landmark in the countless pages of the history of Kashmir where the notion of permanent peace still strikes as an unfulfilled dream.

A version of this post was first published here.

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