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A Lifetime Of Lockdown: Art From Behind Kashmir's Information Blackout

Updated: May 6, 2020

by Niall Walker

 
India has turned Jammu and Kashmir into the largest open air prison on earth. Niall Walker spoke to artists in Kashmir about life under lockdown, hope, and whether art can be an effective resistance to tyranny.
Day 40 of the siege of Kashmir. (Credit: Nawal Watali)

That - which is a fluid explosion, which is a hymn of mountains, which is ember, which is fragrance of the brier, which is a coffin , which is time (less), water air words which despite the tyrannies, persists, persists, persists.

What name shall you give it ?

'Kashmir, Kashmere'

by Omair Bhat

 
Credit: Fatima Ufaq
Credit: Ufaq Fatima

Freedom is a flower. For some, it is a rose of one thousand petals that glisten in the sun, burning with colour.


Yet petals can be stripped away, and with every layer that falls to the ground, the flower’s beauty seems diminished.

What is left when our freedoms are removed? Do we wilt and die; or are we capable of reaching for the light, and blooming once again?

In October, Kashmiri saffron starts to bloom, colouring the Himalayan highway from Srinagar to Jammu a vivid purple. Residents from Pampore, known locally as the Saffron Town, have harvested the lucrative crop for hundreds of years, defying the droughts, the cold, and the bans on international exports.


In the blighting winds which rush down from the mountain peaks, the survival of one flower seems a miracle. Yet in Kashmir, another oppressive force stirs to the south. India's ethno-nationalist government threatens the very existence of citizens in these valleys. Here, standing under the weight of tyranny, an image from an artist or the word of a poet speak of courageous defiance.


Heaven on Earth?

On 5th August 2019, the Indian government established direct rule of Jammu and Kashmir.


Article 370 of the constitution, which has granted the state semi-autonomy since its accession to India in 1947, was revoked.


For Hindu nationalists, it marked the fulfilment of a dream dating back to the birth of the nation. Yet, in Delhi, politicians were keen to downplay its significance. “Nothing will happen,” claimed Home Minister Amit Shah. “It was heaven on earth, and shall remain so.”

Credit: Ufaq Fatima

In reality, India’s only Muslim-majority state was placed into lockdown, turning ‘Heaven on Earth’ into the world’s most heavily militarised region. Movement and communication are restricted for an estimated 8 million people, while an information blackout - the largest of its kind in history - has been imposed.


Thousands of citizens, including many prominent politicians and journalists, have been imprisoned since; but in reality, as Ufaq Fatima says, “they have turned the whole of Kashmir into a jail”.