Prashasti Awasthi decodes the graphics on walls in Kashmir and what the writing on the wall means for the government.
“The walls have ears, ears that hear each little sound you make every-time,” Elvis Presley advises staying cautious as you speak.
What if that very lifeless wall that is only believed to be listening to your secrets, start speaking?
Such rarity could be seen in Kashmir where all kinds of walls, the strong ones, the dilapidated ones, the cemented ones, the muddy ones, have a story to tell, the stories that often go unnoticed and unheard while being told by Kashmiris themselves.
The fresh initiative of scribbling pro-freedom messages on walls, and thus, giving voice to it dates back to the time of 2009-10 after the 2008 uprising in Kashmir. This uprising erupted over the dispute on the transfer of State land to the controversial Amarnath shrine board in Baltal, Kashmir.
The uprising became the onset of the wall graffiti movement in Kashmir. The first wall graffiti that encumbered the freedom slogans was seen on the walls of Islamia College, Srinagar.
“No one wanted to see our sufferings. No one wanted to listen to me. So, I started putting my frustration on the walls. Soon, I gathered overwhelming attention by not only the Kashmiris but also the tourists,” says Adil Ahmad (name changed), a 24-year-old, who wishes to remain anonymous and had an important role to play in the graffiti movement.
According to him, the aim was later shifted to the educating the tourists, who came to cherish the beauty of Kashmir, to let them know, the beauty has its ecliptic phases too.
Soon, the initiative of wall graffiti, which was inspired by the movements in Arab Spring and orchestrated by the students of Islamia College, gained momentum all across the Valley.
“We started our own Facebook page called ‘Kalkharab Kashur’ wherein we asked everyone to take up the task of writing on walls and poured the sentiments there,” he says.
And thus the inanimate walls in Kashmir became the poignant symbolism of the growing resentment among Kashmiris.
“I was timid and soft-hearted. I still remember vividly when I was 8-years-old and I saw my neighbour being shot dead for participating in a protest. The incident shook me to the core. The tender age where all we are supposed to think about is chocolate, forced me to think and contemplate about the brutalities happening in Kashmir,” says Adil.
Adil’s anger crept in and got intensified eventually when his best friend was killed in a protest.
He then decided to educate himself and everyone about the internal politics of Kashmir where the target always are Kashmiris.
Adil knew that to be the part of the struggle does not always mean to take a gun but it also means to methodically strategize an activism that can provide deafening voices to the often ignored ones.
“I might not have the courage to take up a gun but to fight an oppressor, in any manner, is courageous too. At least, we make them know we won’t succumb, not now, and not in the foreseeable future,” Adil says.
The graffiti movement was later linked to social media activism.
Through Kalkharab Kashur, the students started to highlight the unity, especially among Kashmiri youths.
The page started a debate about what the very idea of freedom means. It also kindled the often suppressed Kashmiris to take up the platform and share their grievances while maintaining anonymity.
Soon, the page started gaining popularity. Many youths willingly took charge of scribbling on the walls during the night hours. The walls that now got its voice started coming to notice by many tourists. The walls left them with the gnawing enigma of what exactly was happening in Kashmir. Parachute journalists also documented the walls and hence emboldened the passive movement of wall graffiti.
The page also provided information about the protests so that more people could participate.
“When we go to protests, we often used to write on car bonnets and on the headlights of private vehicles. This was largely done to punish them for coming out on a shutdown day,” chuckles Adil reminiscing the days when he used to take part in protests.
However, the growing popularity did not sit well with the government and the security establishment.
Troops, paramilitary forces and Police started taking down the content from ‘Kalkharab Kashur’ and defaced the walls.
In 2014, just after the rightwing Bhartiya Janta Party came to power, the page was monitored by the security establishment and eventually, the ID of the page was blocked.
Many students were apprehended for posting anti-government statements.
“When we used to write ‘we want freedom’, they added ‘from stone pelting’ after freedom and hence the whole message came out as ‘we want freedom from stone pelting,’” Adil says.
According to him, everyone involved in the movement was incarcerated under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The movement went well nonetheless. Soon, the youth started printing T-shirts with pro-freedom messages.
“If they deface walls, we have other alternatives to nag them,” says Adil.
The security establishment refused to talk over the issue.
The movement that blew a life on the lifeless walls of Kashmir still goes nonetheless.
The walls are still decorated with the unsettling statements and slogans, the slogans that can disturb you and make you think about the suffering of that very Kashmir, which once was referred to as heaven.
The only question is, “Are you listening?”