“Agar sab theek hai, toh humko kyun karte tum khamosh kyun
Bandi banake, humpe lagate ho dosh kyun
Hamare ghar main ghus ke, karte tod fod kyun
Aisa roz roz kyun.”
In early August, 24-year old rapper Ahmer Javed was in Delhi, preparing for a performance, when the Indian government began issuing warnings about an impending terror threat in Kashmir. He remembers being confused and angry at the government’s elaborate evacuation plans for tourists and pilgrims when a terror attack was apparently looming on his home state.
“There was such chaos and confusion. Like there’s going to be infiltration from the neighbouring country, war is upon us, people need to fuel up their cars, stock up whatever is needed for 3 months,” Ahmer said.
He returned to Kashmir the day Article 370 was abrogated. The communication blackout was unlike anything he had experienced before in his life. The familiar alleys of his home looked ‘apocalyptic’. “It felt like death,” he said.
Soon after, he began writing the tracks of his latest mixtape ‘Inqalab’. Amid the blackout and the uncertainty, Ahmer documented the exhausting anxiety of his people, the fear and the tired resignation. He composed the music and hoped that the internet blackout would end soon so that he could release the track in Kashmir. 100 days later, he is still waiting.
‘Inqalab’, the new mixtape released by Azadi Records, which Ahmer has written, composed and performed, is a searing document of the anger seething in Kashmir, now a union territory. Through ‘Inqalab’, the rapper seeks to punch holes into the government’s narrative about the situation in Kashmir, the pro-establishment media’s misleading representation of Kashmir’s ground realities and disregard for the sentiments of its people.
The first track in Inqalab, titled Nazara, takes on the government’s claims about normalcy prevailing in Kashmir.
“I have never seen Kashmir like this,” he told HuffPost India. “I mean when you need to lock people up, cut them off from the entire world, deploy 40 - 50,000 additional troops to the 7-8 lakh that were already on the ground, you should be smart enough to realise that people never asked for this and they’ll never be happy with this,” he added.
Ahmer and Azadi Records wanted the tape to be accessible to as many people as they could reach, so they have made it available on the company’s website and Soundcloud to be downloaded for free.
Quest for Truth
“Hasee ati hai inki news channel dekh ke
Is besharmo ki tehqiqat kitni fake hai…
Kashmir aane se phat ti hai inki
Sirf newsrooms main baithke yeh denge tippani.”
The seething second verse of Aman, one of the four tracks in Inqalab, follows a mash-up of lines from television news shows on channels like Arnab Goswami’s Republic. Most of these news anchors, including Goswami, are repeating that “things are normal in Kashmir.”
Ahmer never deliberately tried to make his music political. However, he recognises that just speaking about growing up in Kashmir, living under constant military surveillance and even dreaming amid iron-fisted oppression, becomes a political act.
“We get dragged into politics, and there is no option left,” he said.
Ahmer was in middle-school when, one morning, he walked into the living room of his home to find his mother weeping. She could barely speak and when she did, she said something about his brother getting beaten up. There was a curfew at Rajbhagh, around his home on the banks of Jhelum, and his brother had stepped out to get milk and bread. “Curfews were a regular thing when we were growing up. And they have us this 1-2 hour window to buy daily supplies on these days. My brother had gone out then,” Ahmer said. Within 15 minutes of the high school student stepping out, Ahmer said, he was picked up by the security forces who then began thrashing him. “He was dragged to a bunker nearby, so our family got to know of it. The men rushed to the place to stop them,” he added. A young Ahmer was left at home, confused and angry, and it the absurdity of their lives struck him. “I locked myself up in the room and refused to come out for a day, I couldn’t process the truth of our lives,” he said.
Over the years, Ahmer gathered stories from people who had lived worse atrocities than he had and hoped to document them one day. That was primarily how his musical journey began. “However, I like to focus on what is happening now. What the struggle of Kashmiris are. Rapper MC Kash has done some spectacular work in documenting Kashmir’s violent history, so I am focussing on the present,” he said.
The rapper, whose debut album was released earlier this year, says that his aim through his art is to make as many people aware about the sufferings of Kashmiris as he can.
“I don’t use rap as a vessel to channel my politics, I write what comes from the heart, pen it down, stay true to the essence, and make a song out of it. It’s emotions, your state of mind, the pain, your story rather than politics for me. That’s what gets displayed in every song,” he explained.
Ahmer points at mainstream Indian media’s coverage of Kashmir as one example of the everyday violation that Kashmiris have to face. He was in Kashmir when satellite TV began functioning there and most Indian channels, he saw, insisted that there was no strife in Kashmir. “It’s we who were locked up and the sell-out media was talking about us, and our place being normal, how would you feel?” he asked.
Music of Protest
Ahmer counts Tupac Shakur, the legendary rapper who was shot dead when he was just 25 years old, as one of his primary sources of inspiration.
“Rap music was and is protest music. You speak your mind, you stand against tyranny, atrocities, inequality, it’s not just a genre, it’s a cause,” he told HuffPost India.
Azadi Records, which released Inqalab, has been instrumental in giving voice to the pain that Ahmer experienced. The independent record label, the rapper explained, doesn’t ask their artistes to dial down their opinions and asks them to be themselves, crucial in the country’s current atmosphere of zealous censorship.
The four songs of Inqalab are available for free downloads and both Azadi Records and Ahmer wanted it to be that way. “This project was different. It is an urgent response to the lies that people are spreading about Kashmir, the claims of normalcy. I did not want anyone to pay me to listen to the reality of Kashmir. I wanted as many people to be able to access this work,” Ahmer said.