Kashmiris rap on rights

Photo: Felix Gaedtke

Rap music has come to Kashmir – and now it’s a voice for youth dissent.

‘Protest rap’ started two years ago, when thousands of Kashmiris demonstrated in the streets against India’s heavy military presence.

Now there are over a dozen renowned protest rappers in Kashmir, who have to perform in secret to avoid arrest.

Asia Calling’s Felix Gaedtke and Gayatri Parameswaran pick up the beat.

Listen to the radio piece here: [soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/54157444" iframe="true" /]

That’s ‘I Protest’ – an anthem for Kashmiri demonstrators two years ago.

That’s when hundreds of people were killed by Indian paramilitary actions in Kashmir.

The song’s by local rapper MC Kash, with lyrics that say “My paradise is burning with troops let loose with ammo.”

He’s celebrated as one of Kashmir’s first protest rappers, and he chose to rap in English to tell the world what was happening.

His music means he has to perform in secret - after the song was released online, police raided the studio where he recorded it, and questioned staff to try and track him down.

Kashmir has faced conflict since 1947 – both India and Pakistan claim the territory, and have fought three wars over it.

Today Kashmir’s Valley is home to over half a million Indian troops.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep for most of the territory’s 10 million citizens.

Rap started in Kashmir several years ago – but now the protest rappers are in the spotlight.

Haze Kay, who is in his 20s, is another famous protest rapper in the Valley.

His song ‘Azaadi’ means ‘freedom’ in Urdu. Last year police forced him to take it down from the website ReverbNation – most fans listen to protest rap online.

He says his music is about Kashmir’s reality.

“A lot of things have happened, a lot of things are happening. Like in Kashmir also, you might see day-do-day protests on the TV. There will be stone-pelters and everything. My music is related to that. Why does a person go on the road and protest? Why does a person need to pick up stones and stone somebody in the government? My music raises those issues. They cannot reach the media, they cannot reach the masses, but I am providing them a medium. You give me your messages, you give me your words, your feelings and I will spread it to the rest of the world. That is what my music is doing.”

Protest rappers question human rights violations in their music.

Last year Pervez Imroz, a human rights lawyer, uncovered mass graves with over 2,000 bodies.

He says most of these bodies come from forced disappearances by the Indian military.

The State Human Rights Commission later confirmed Imroz’s findings.

Haze Kay again.

“Where did these graves come from? Who are the people who are buried in them? And if there are so many people buried in them, the point is when did this happen? It has been happening since 10 or 15 years. But nobody knows about it. That is what my music focuses on. If something is happening, if it is wrong, it should be brought to justice. People should know about it. I am just saying I am living here. I am present, I am good voter, I vote. I participate in elections. Then give me my rights. Give me justice. Give me a situation, give me a place where I feel safe.”

Haze’s mother interrupts us.

She says she’s scared her son will get into trouble for criticising the government.

She has good reason – many protest rappers face threats and intimidation.

Another rapper MC Youngblood, whose offstage name is Qasim Hyder, is also afraid.

“I had heard that studios are regularly raided by the police. I thought same would happen to me and if I am arrested, I will be slapped with the PSA Act and the rest of my life is gone. Then I am in jail.”

The PSA or Public Safety Act allows police to detain suspects for up to two years without charge, if authorities say they’re a threat to the state.

Human rights group Amnesty International reported that in 2010 alone up to 2000 people, including children, were arrested under the Act.

Protest rappers have put their music at the centre of Kashmir’s struggles.

But not everyone wants to use it that way.

Non-political rap has been around for several years, and it’s also getting bigger.

‘Rap Impact’ is Kashmir’s first ever rap contest - it’s on next month.

Entry is open to all but there’s one condition: no protest rap is allowed.

DJ Aki from the event management company Markus Kraft is behind the competition.

“Look, honestly speaking about Kashmiri rap, many guys do protest rapping, which I have strictly forbidden in this event because I don’t want that people should get violent. In the audience, they get violent and do any kind of mishap which can lead to the defaming of this programme. Simply we are artists, we are not politicians.”

The Arshad brothers, Habib and Hamza, will join the contest.

17-year old Hamza has been rapping for four years now, and uses his mother’s language Punjabi.

“I basically rap in Punjabi. I have learned Punjabi rap from my mentor Bohemia. For the past four years, I have been continuously doing Punjabi rap. If you go to the basic definition of rap, it means rhythm and poetry. It means you have to express your views...”

But Hamza and his brother say they don’t have any political views on Kashmir.

“I love India. It’s my motherland.”

The contest is set to make an impact on the local scene.

But protest rappers haven’t slowed down.

That’s MC Youngblood again, with his song ‘The Final Stand.’

It also highlights the mass graves – its lyrics talk about “Fountains of blood run through paradise, silence over graveyards broken by dreaded cries…”

As long as violence continues in Kashmir, so will the dissent.