Let me cry out in that void, say it as I can. I write on that void:
Kashmir, Kaschmir, Cashmere, Qashmir, Cashmir, Cashmire,
Kashmere, Cachemire, Cushmeer, Cachmiere, Cašmir. Or Cauchemar
in a sea of stories? Or: Kacmir, Kaschemir, Kasmere, Kachmire,
The Blessed Word: A Prologue On Kashmir by Agha Shahid Ali
Kashmir, the majestic valley cradled by the Himalayas, or Cashmere, the warm woolen shawl wrapped around thousands who call a torn valley their home. Or Cauchemar, a dreamland turned into a nightmare for all to whom this land is home. Taken from The Blessed Word: A Prologue On Kashmir by Agha Shahid Ali, these lines are like a repeated prayer recited to indicate the importance of the place that, to this day, is robbed of freedom. The Indian brutality in occupied Kashmir has left generations with trauma and a loss irreplaceable.
The Land Marked by Conquerors
The suffering of Kashmiris started when Raja Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler of Kashmir at the time of partition, chose to be part of India. As a Muslim-majority state, the alignment with India subjected Kashmiris to more than 70 years of isolation, torture, and abandonment, the end of which is no-where closer in sight. The history of this land is marred by constant invasions, indifferent rulers, and an eternal struggle for liberty.
When one divulges deep into the past of this land, one finds that the Kashmiris have been exploited long before the chaos ensued by the British in the partition of the sub-continent.
Tariq Ali, in Kashmir: The Case For Freedom, discusses the turbulent history of Kashmir from the coup of the Buddhist chief, Rinchana, who later converted to Islam by the guidance of a Sufi saint. He ruled for only three years, from 1320 to 1323. Rinchana ruled with his Turkish mercenary force and after his death, the mercenaries selected a leader among themselves to rule. Thus the first Muslim rule on the mountains of Kashmir began.
Shah Mir was the leader of the Muslim dynasty that was to rule for the next seven hundred years in the valley. Forced conversions and strict Muslim rule marked his oppressive reign. After his death, Zain-ul-Abideen ushered Kashmir into a new era of craftsmanship, and art and gave Kashmir an identity and expression. An identity that manifested deeply during the rule of Zoonie, a peasant queen known to the world as Habba Khatoon. The eminent sense of literature and the lyrical poetry produced during her period was instilled in the hearts of many younger generations. The current generation has taken poetry and transformed it to pave way for their lost freedom.
After multiple invasions including the Mughals, Durrani, and the cruel Dogra rule, Kashmir soon landed in the clutches of Indian forces.
Not knowing a moment of peace after the Indian occupation, Kashmiris face not only oppression but also the systematic erasure of their culture and traditions.
India sent the entire world into a state of shock by revoking Article 370. The article provided Jammu and Kashmir with a certain level of autonomy. This annulment led to natives losing their right to ownership of property and fundamental rights. This annulment was the beginning of a strategic and colonial-inspired invasion by Modi’s government. The pulling of this last straw led to protests all over Kashmir and the world. When will justice be served in Kashmir? And why does Kashmir continue to burn? These questions are asked by every generation that is born there. And they remain unanswered.
The Roar for Freedom Breaks Out
From comparing Modi to Hitler to Kashmiris chanting ‘Azadi’ louder than ever, a new generation of artists and poets emerged.
Their resistance, more substantial and more impactful, has spread across the globe, giving rise to a new era of freedom fighters. Inspired by Agha Shahid Ali’s expressive and enlightening poetry on the horrors done to Kashmir, many young poets and singers emerged. Faheem Abdullah in his music video, Jhelum, presents an epigraph from Agha Shahid Ali.
The music video portrays the gloominess that lingers in the air as the river Jhelum cries for the bodies lost to its murky waters.
Nighat Sahiba is one of those emerging poets who have taken the responsibility to express freely and take on the confines that threaten to choke Kashmiri’s identity. Her poetry has made it to many literary journals as it tackles the subject of loss and confinement.
Goliv Yim Niey Tim Qabran Maenz Moujoodei
Maajan Yeim Aeis Lari Tal Sawith Tim Koat Gayi
[Bullets took them away, graves devoured them;
ones who lay sleeping beside mothers, where did they go.]
A Kashmiri native, Uzma Falak, makes poetry a weapon against the hegemonic structures that have been in power for far too long. Her work blends the revival of memories with the native atmosphere of the land. Apart from the people she calls to her land, she calls to her Kashmir.
Nameless trees stand intimately,
rooted but almost paralytic, embracing each other
in all seasons
waiting for the bugle
for a final march against the tyranny of time
a grand march for flow.
Flowing, flow, flowed.
Poetry, and literature in that regard, are considered dangerous for the hegemonic powers that govern and rule against the will of the masses, for poetry gives rise to free thought. What is freedom but an abstract idea, birthed from minds that dare to question. Poetry, the vessel for Yeats to speak for Ireland. Poetry, the soft symphony for Agha Shahid Ali to make Kashmir his muse. Poetry, the cry for liberation for Mandelstam, to resist the imperial Czarist rule. Poetry, the music that gave hope to Mahmoud Dervish, in the prison of Israel.
Throughout history, the poets of a region have played the vital role of igniting the flames of revolt against conquering forces. Now in these turbulent times, poetry has become that last voice, the final roar against suppression. From Ireland to Sarajevo to the Bolshevik revolution to Kashmir, the ‘final march against the tyranny of time’ shall always be led by those who believe in the strength of words for the pen alone holds the might of a thousand armies.
To this day, Kashmiris battle their way through life on a land that is a pure reflection of heaven. Their blood and tears are now a part of this paradoxical paradise.
Decades upon decades of forced control, yet generations upon generations have not lost hope.
As Kashmir is pulled in the endless tug-of-war between India and Pakistan, Kashmiris have opened their eyes to their own identity. Quoted famously as the bone of contention, it is time the world sees Kashmir as a paradise that ironically burns.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.