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In Kashmir, ‘Conscious Music’ Tests India’s Limits on Speech | World News

Sheikh Salik and Ijaz Hussain, by the Associated Press

SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Sarfaraz Javed is rhythmically pushing his chest, swinging his guitar and letting his voice ring through the forest in a music video: “What kind of ink covers the sky? It has darkened my world. … why was the house handed over to strangers? ”

“Khuftan Bange” – Kashmiri for “Azan for Night Prayer” – sounds like a cry for Muslim-majority Kashmir, the Himalayan region that has been home to decades of regional conflict, gun battles and harsh crackdowns on civilians. . It is mournful in tone but lyrical symbolism is inspired by Sufism, an Islamic mystical tradition. Its form is like a Marsia, a poetic performance that laments for the Muslim martyrs.

“I just express myself and shout, but when harmony is added, it turns into a song,” Javed, a poet like his father and grandfather, said in an interview.

Javed is one of a movement of controversial Kashmir artists, divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both since 1947, who are creating a new musical tradition by mixing progressive Sufi rock with hip-hop in a strong expression of political aspirations. They call it “conscious music”.

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To draw on elements of Islam and spiritual poetry, it is often embellished with religious metaphors to thwart some restrictions on freedom of speech in Indian-controlled Kashmir that many poets and singers have swallowed up. It also seeks to bridge the tension between Muslim tradition and modernism in a region that in many ways still clings to a conservative past.

“It’s like letting go of the emotions that have been frozen for decades,” Javed said.

Kashmir’s spoken poetry has a centuries-old tradition that is heavily influenced by Islam, with mysterious, rapsodic verses often used when praying in mosques and shrines. After the uprising against Indian rule began in 1989, poetic presentations on the liberation of mosques from loudspeakers and funerals of fallen rebels inspired by historical Islamic events were sung.

Two decades of fighting have left Kashmir and its people thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have died before the armed struggle has dried up, paving the way for unarmed mass protests that shook the region in 2008 and 2010. At the time, Kashmir also saw the rise of English-language hip-hop and protest music in the rap, a new form of resistance.

Singer-songwriter Raushan Elahi, who performs as MC Kash, was the pioneer of the genre, who created angry, grab-you-the-neck music that became a procession of young people using sharp rhymes and beats to challenge India’s sovereignty. Rose. On the territory.

Kash’s song has dangerously moved closer to sedition, though, it is illegal to question India’s claims in the troubled region. The country has severely restricted freedom of expression on the Kashmir issue, including some restrictions on media, dissent and religious practice.

Frequent police interrogation pushed Kash to a point where he almost stopped singing. Some colleagues have continued to record and perform but have begun to include coded language, or have moved away from politics altogether.

“At first it was a chokehold,” said Cough, “but now it’s your pillow.”

Tensions escalated in 2016 when Indian troops suppressed another mass uprising, leading to renewed militancy. Three years later, in 2019, New Delhi revoked the region’s partial autonomy amid a blackout of communications and a harsh crackdown on press and other forms of independent expression.

The situation has worsened as a result of India’s aggressive counter-insurgency operations, which has led to an increase in gun battles between the rebels and the Indian army. Insurgent attacks on Kashmiri police officers, Indian migrant workers and the region’s Hindu minority have also increased.

The crackdown that began in 2019 continues. Despite the fact that many artists have stuck to music and gained fame, their songs have been widely shared on social media. “Conscious music” has further developed as artists have recently started adding Urdu and Kashmiri songs.

On a recent afternoon, a group of young artists gathered at musician Zeeshan Nabi’s home studio on the outskirts of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. Filling the room with cigarette smoke coils, they passionately debated the metaphor and essence of their religious references.

“What (religious symbolism) is doing is constantly knocking on doors, either as a reminder or as a reminder of the past,” the prophet said.

He expressed optimism that the gag was temporary: “How long can you hold on? The oppressor can oppress for a certain period of time. ”

“We are dreamers,” said Arif Farooq, a hip-hop artist who uses the name Kafilah Mancha, with a smile.

Kafilah’s music video “Farar” – “Fugitive” – ​​begins with a shot of a concert wire and he sits in the courtyard of the shrine of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, Kashmir’s most revered Sufi saint. It calls for the ancient battle of Karbala, where the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad was martyred and which symbolizes the struggle against injustice and oppression.

“Our illness can only be cured by revolution, my friend. Every answer lies in Karbala, my friend, ”Kafilah requested in the song.

Kafilah said religious symbolism is a creative tool to reflect the pain of Kashmir and avoid the state’s vision.

“You want to steal, but you don’t want to get caught,” he said.

The symbol of faith as a subtext is hard to miss in this new form of music.

A recent video, “Inshallah” – contains the song “God’s Will” which awakens monotheism, the foundation of the Islamic faith. In it, singer Yawar Abdal imagines a Kashmir where people, blindfolded and strangled, are liberated under the slogan “Everyone will be free”. The restrained “InshaAllah” is set against a growing chorus of morning prayers recited in mosques.

Another song – “Jhilam”, named for Kashmir’s main river – became an instant hit to contrast the normalcy of daily life in Kashmir with the ongoing mourning for the dead. In the online video, users have since set the song in moving and still images to commemorate fallen fighters – a way to counter the authorities’ policy of burying suspected rebels in remote mountain cemeteries since 2020, denying them the opportunity to bury their families.

“There is this tension in the air that is shaping you in a certain way,” says poet and singer Fahim Abdullah, the man behind “Jhilam”.

Poets and musicians received state sponsorship in Kashmir, and government-sponsored music festivals were held regularly.

At least some Indian authorities take a fading view of the growing movement of protest music; At a recent event, a top Indian military general praised the region’s rich artistic heritage but condemned it as “the kind of rap song that only brings sorrow”.

One recent evening, Javed, the artist of “Khuftan Bange” sat on the shores of the beautiful Dal Lake in Srinagar and held a procession for his homeland. As the sun tilted behind the mountains and it began to rain heavily, he ended by pronouncing the names of the missing. One of the names was a distant relative.

“I reflect what I see,” Javed said. “I see pain, suffering and loss.”

Associated Press Religion coverage is funded by Lily Endowment Inc. The conversation is supported by AP’s collaboration with the US. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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