The hip-hop faces of Kashmir’s pro-freedom rallies

August 27th, 2008 - 1:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Aug 27 (IANS) Pepe T-shirt, Levis jeans, Red Tape shoes and Gucci sunglasses tugged over tresses that have been bleached blond. This is the face of the young, impassioned Kashmiri generation often visible at pro-independence demonstrations in the valley nowadays.Looking cool in his branded apparel, Amir Rashid, a Class 12 student of a Christian missionary school here, led a rally of youths in a zooming motorcycle cavalcade in this summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. They shouted pro-freedom and pro-Islam slogans.

Asked about the seeming mismatch between his appearance and the apparent pan-Islamist ideology at the rally, Rashid told IANS: “It’s a war for identity. I am a Kashmiri Muslim and my dress and look have got nothing to do with what I am shouting for.”

With hip-hop mannerisms, inspired by Bollywood and Hollywood, thousands of Kashmiri youths like Rashid participate in these rallies reasserting their power and enthusiasm, braving the batons and bullets of the police during daytime.

In the evenings though, they sit glued to their TV sets watching Bollywood movies and related shows. Rashid in fact makes sure he doesn’t miss actors Shilpa Shetty and Akshay Kumar’s reality shows currently being aired on two private Indian channels.

“This is the generation that was born in the bloody 1990s and grew up in the Machiavellian 2000s. They have lived and outsmarted violence. They enjoy the consumerist goodies but have an anger latent in their hearts and minds,” said Irfana Qadri, a psychologist.

“This generation symbolises the future of Kashmir and is politically more aware than their previous generations,” Qadri told IANS.

The “inheritors of rage” pour in thousands into the streets with stones in their hands, shouting “We want freedom” and “Oh oppressers and tryants, leave our Kasmir”. Police and paramilitary troopers chase them away. They disperse but regroup in a while.

The protests in the Kashmir Valley were triggered following a dispute over 40 hectares of forest land alloted to the Hindu Amarnath temple shrine board. The land transfer was then cancelled.

More than 45 people have died, mostly in police and paramilitary firing, in the nearly three-month long turmoil, which has been stoked by both separatist leaders in Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and Hindu extremists in Jammu.

The unrest also breathed life into the separatist movement in Muslim-dominated Kashmir.

The largest demonstration in two decades took place Friday when tens of thousands of Kashmiris, including women, gathered in an open area of the Eidgah grounds in the old city to demand “freedom” from India.

In Eidgah lies the “martyrs’” cemetery, where hundreds killed in the two-decade old armed conflict in Kashmir are buried.

The scenes on the roads in the valley these days remind one of the early 1990s when the anti-India wave was at its peak. At that time, separatist guerrillas, supported by Pakistan, used to openly roam the streets totting AK 47s. Today, unarmed youths seem to have replaced them.

While the young marchers are fire and brimstone at mainstream politicians like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, they also accuse separatist leaders of “lack of commitment and direction to the cause”.

“We no longer trust any leaders. Not even the Mirwaizs and the Geelanis (chairmen of their respective factions of the separatist Hurriyat Conference). Not to talk of the Abdullahs and the Muftis (mainstream politicians) of the world,” said Suhail Aijaz, a university student studying peace and conflict education.

“I wish someone was in the driving seat to channel and steer our energy and enthusiasm. But all politicians are busy in petty politics,” said Aijaz, who was part of the motorcycle rally.

The huge pro-freedom demonstrations have taken all by surprise as three months ago everything in Kashmir was deceptively normal, with tourists flocking to this Himalayan state in northern India.

“It was a lull before the storm,” said Syed Muzammil, a 25-year-old Kashmiri woman. “The uprising we see now is the hidden anger. It typifies the failure of efforts by India to win the hearts and minds of Muslim Kashmiris.”

Muzammil, who was one among the demonstrators, told IANS: “Kashmiri public opinion is hardly largely pro-Pakistan or anti-India. It’s distrust that runs deep. Today’s youths have seen it all. They are not radicalised Islamists as India or its rightwing parties would like to believe.”

“They are not indifferent to realities. They know the failures and successes of both countries. But the current conundrum in Kashmir is a result of the mistakes of previous generations. They have left the dispute unsettled,” she said, holding a green flag, her head covered with a veil but wearing a jeans and knee length designer kurta.

(Sarwar Kashani can be reached at s.kashani@ians.in)

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