Armed conflict spears numerous dimensions, voids, and anger. In Kashmir, swiping through the flood of news of clashes, injuries, and deaths; a few find their channel to vent that anger and uneasiness in guns, stones, and social media—though, a relatively smaller sect of youth, majorly in towns, take the spray cans and paint the idea of rebellion on walls in the faces of graffiti.
Graffiti is writing or painting on a wall or any surface, generally in public view, aimed to pass a message or diss any notion existing in the society. The mainstream checklist to pull one off consists of a spray-can, stencil, and a good pair of sneakers (to run).
While Kashmir was deep in sleep, with the dawn, a new graffiti appeared on the wall on the bund (embankment) side of Jhelum river, right next to Zero Bridge, Srinagar, a few weeks back; it read, in Urdu: Azadi. Laanath Hindustanas (Curse be upon India).
Though, it isn’t something new for Kashmir or for the wall itself. It has been used as a surface to vent for a long time.
Over the time, numerous anonymous graffiti artists from Kashmir, have sprayed their work on it, the most renowned among them being the portrait of the founder of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Muhammad Maqbool Bhat.
For a long time, as traced back to early 1970s’, people have treated graffitis as a subculture to hip-hop. The graffiti featuring Bhat spread like fire in the Valley, and also featured as album covers for many underground rappers, including Kashmir’s hip-hop prodigy, MC Kash.
But, it met the same fate as many others: whitewashed.
The bund was developed during the Dogra regime as a nature trail cum walkway for British tourists and officers, and occasionally, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of J-K under British rule, himself. It was considered as a royal route, where the civilian movement was strictly restricted.
After armed insurgency hit Kashmir in the late 1980s’, the royal route was swapped with Central Reserve Police Force bunkers, marking every kilometer.
Like elsewhere in Valley, authorities have been successful to an extent in curbing this global resisting expression. But, almost after a year, a Srinagar based female graffiti artist, in her 20s, took her spray-can to continue the legacy of the bund.
“Living in Kashmir is very difficult,” she said sitting aside a tree, wearing a scarf on head, and sneakers on feet. “Here, expressing your anger and trauma becomes more difficult as well as important.” In the wake of the situation, she made art her weapon, and graffiti, a means to express her anger.
“With army personnel gazing every corner of Kashmir, it wasn’t easy for me to paint the walls,” she added. She started off at the age of 16, with spraying Bhat’s portrait at first.
“India illegally occupied Kashmir but their government always deny this fact,” she said. Talking about the alleged rape cases at the behest of armed forces, she told that earlier she had no idea what rape stood for, but, the armed conflict made her think that it was something horrible that could happen to her as well. “I always was scared of men in uniform,” she added. She draws her inspiration from Iranian artists including, Sherin Nishat, and Marjane Satrapi.
She also highlighted the brutal aspect, that is visible on the ground, and how, Kashmir being the most militarized zone in the world has witnessed civilian killings, enforced disappearances, torture cases, rapes, and other brutalities by the Indian forces over the decades.
Recalling her childhood, and narrating the idea resisting systematic tortures and disappearances, she said, “Government forces raid our houses, ransack them and imprison our young innocent brothers; only to torture them like animals and sodomize them.”
But while Valley is under constant vigilance, for her to spray her idea of rebellion, without anyone noticing her, is hard. She craves the designs and makes stencils beforehand to trace the writings and art on this wall.
Reflecting the pain that she feels when “mothers wait for their sons with their photos in their hands in the middle of a city,” she adds that at least 8,000 families have lost their loved ones to enforced disappearance at the behest of the Indian armed forces, “But the Indian government refuses to acknowledge the problem.”
In 2014, on the same wall near the bund, a replica of an international graffiti sensation, Banksy’s work popularly known as ‘Flower Bomber’ was done by an anonymous artist. Though floods swept it away in the same year, and the wall of graffiti collapsed; only to be renovated by the authorities.
Resistance has dimensions—she takes up spray cans as hers’. Signing off, she added, “I’m not going to live the life of a prisoner. I will resist the brutality and cruelty via my art.”