22/11/2019 8:32 AM IST | Updated 22/11/2019 8:32 AM IST

How One Woman Is Making Soap To Protest Atrocities In Kashmir

Vidyut Gore made "Silenced Valley” and “Kashmir" after Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its autonomy on 5 August.

Courtesy Vidyut Gore
The "Kashmir" soap made by Vidyut following the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy on 5th August.

Vidyut Gore, who calls herself a ‘nomad’ with many interests, has for the past few years been making soaps that reflect how she feels about the people and places caught in the crossfire of conflict and bloodshed. 

Two new soaps, which she made shortly after the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy on 5th August, are called “Silenced Valley” and “Kashmir.” In addition to questions about whether whether the sudden revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution by the Modi government was unconstitutional, human rights activists have spoken up about mass arrests and an unprecedented internet blockade in Kashmir. 

In a written interview, Gore told HuffPost India about the Kashmir-themed soaps.

(Edited excerpts)

What are we seeing in these two soaps? 

“Silenced Kashmir” has a swirling base and on that base, there is a saffron flower and a chinar leaf in autumn colours. The idea was to have objects that remind one of Kashmir. There are also other embellishments in multiple colours like small hearts or flowers, symbols of love and affection. These embeds are covered in transparent soap, so it is almost like they are encased in glass. Embeds are various smaller pieces of soap crafted separately and added as design elements. There is an implication of being in a limbo but there is also a chinar leaf on top. The chinar shows the isolation isn’t complete. There is a small entry for people who care about Kashmir. It smells somewhat like baby powder and almonds. It smells of innocence. 

The idea was to have objects that remind one of Kashmir.

The Kashmir soap is probably the most complicated one I have made yet and contains layers and layers of soap (each with a unique design). Colour schemes and designs are selected to reflect different things one associates with Kashmir. From forestry patterns to blood in the ground, on snow. From a technicolor Dal landscape to the intricate embroidery of the phiran. 

This soap also has embeds. Some of the embeds are a swirling round design to signify a chakravyuh, recognising the frustration of the younger generation, and of course the chinar leaves in colours of autumn - this season. The swirls are increasingly inspired by the festive phirans and their swirling designs as we reach the top and the final layer also has gold swirled in. The effect is rather shimmery. With the rich chinar leaves and droplets of metallic blood that could be rubies… somehow touches the perception of Kashmir as the crown jewel of India. One side of the soap has a mountain fresh air kind of scent, while the other smells of apples 

From a technicolor Dal landscape to the intricate embroidery of the phiran.
Courtesy Vidyut Gore
An internal layer of 'Kashmir' soap.

How is this an expression of your politics? 

It is a reminder that there are some of us who are out of sight but we must not let them be out of mind as well. To not forget that each moment that we are oblivious is a moment they are spending in abject humiliation, uncertainty and pain. In addition to those actually arrested, shot at, killed, injured, everyone suffering from lack of food, income, medical care, and education.

What is it about Kashmir that bothers you? 

What bothers me most about Kashmir is that we are a country born out of a struggle for independence, but today we are acting in a manner that denies parts of our own country autonomy. What does that mean? Is the pride we take in our independence fake? Is this an honourable ethic to have? It disturbs me. It disturbs me less because of any specific issue with Kashmir and more because it shows our own identity as a nation to be hypocritical.  We want the land. We don’t want people. It all boils down to a “land grab.” If India is really one country and we are all “brothers and sisters,” this is brother killing brother for property. Not a pretty image of who we are, is it?

What bothers me is that we are a country born out of a struggle for independence, but today we are acting in a manner that denies parts of our own country autonomy.
Courtesy Vidyut Gore
An image of the 'Silenced Valley' soap.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into making soap? How long have you been doing it? Is this a one-woman operation? 

I’m a nomad in life. I have many interests and many things I earn from. There was even a phase in my life when the “nomad” was literal in the classic sense. I spent seven years living in the mountains and was a nomadic horsewoman, sleeping under the sky, etc. I got into making soaps when I was a new mother and there were guests constantly coming to see the baby. Diwali was coming up and I was broke and didn’t really have a budget to give anyone anything. I decided to make soap because it seemed doable. It seems like another lifetime now, and even my idea of “doable” or “success” in making soap is drastically different now. I started selling soaps when I got better at it. My son is affected by disability, and this seemed to be a way of earning an income without leaving home, so I did it. The rest is history.

I spent seven years living in the mountains and was a nomadic horsewoman, sleeping under the sky.

Should soaps be political? 

Why not? Besides, my soaps are more about the art, the soap is the medium. Some artists will make beautiful floral paintings. Others will do political caricatures. Similarly, some make pointless soaps, I make art soaps. Sometimes they can be pretty and sometimes they are a biting political cartoon. 

Have you made politically themed or human rights themed soaps before? What issues did you cover? 

Several of my soaps have political messages. One that is extremely popular ever since it was designed is “Urban Naxal.” when Vivek Agnihotristarted targeting those campaigning for human rights as Urban Naxals.  

I thought that there needs to be a way to respect them and own that term with pride if that makes us similar to them. So that soap declares that they are inspiring enough for someone to undertake an artistic effort in their honour. And it is getting sold. And it is a concrete statement. People bought it as a statement. They still do. It is my most commonly sold soap. This isn’t free RTs. People are paying money to proudly own something called “Urban Naxal.” Also I think it makes a lot of dissenting citizens feel less helpless.

Then, there is a beautiful soap with a lotus on a lake. It is called “Kamal ka fool” and there seems to be some red on the surface of the lake. Another floral soap is called “bagon meinbahar hai, inspired by Ravish Kumar, of course. 


Courtesy Vidyut Gore
A close up of the 'Kashmir' soap.

How did this idea of making political and human rights themed soap come to you?

When I first made soaps, I just called them by whatever their ingredients were. “Activated charcoal soap,” “French clay soap,” “Neem soap,” “Coffee soap,” “coconut soap,” and so on. As my skills grew and designs improved, naturally the urge to do more with design was always there. I am always pushing the boundaries of what I do.

How is this soap made? How is it different from how other soaps are made? 

Hahaha. A book wouldn’t be enough to reply. But to compare it with say… making something with wheat dough. A regular inexpensive bar would be a chapati. Maybe a good chapati, maybe an ordinary one, but generally one makes them one way and that formula is forever. This works for mass production ― mix in specified quantities, mix additives in specific quantities, ram into moulds and voila the same standardised bar over and over and over. Machines make it. My soaps are what happens if you look at the dough and start wondering what to make with it. You may decide to stuff it and make a paratha or a puri. Or you may decide to roll it in different shapes or fold it in a certain way or roast it on a coal fire to finish it off.  The options depend on what you are trying to do. 

My soaps are what happens if you look at the dough and start wondering what to make with it.
Courtesy Vidyut Gore
A close up of an inner layer of the 'Kashmir' soap.

How long does it take? 

Depends on the plan. A simple soap, I can pour it in an hour or two. It will still take time to set - say a day. And cut - say half an hour. And cure - depending on weather - couple of weeks in dry weather. And pack. A soap like Kashmir was in my head all monsoon. The design evolving as I waited for the weather to dry enough to make soap. Making is not a problem, the curing and hardening takes way longer in the monsoon. When I started making it, between the embeds and the various layers, it still took me about ten days between the two soaps. 

Do you want people to use the soaps or just keep it in their homes?

I normally want people to use the soaps. They are so unusual for most people that they tend to collect them. But USE THEM! They are art you bring into your life and cheaper than many lipsticks today. Use. Finish. Buy more. They aren’t going anywhere. Make them a part of your life. So for Kashmir, I just had this idea that perhaps you want to use it, but can’t. A taste of that frustration or longing. So it was a suggestion to keep them as a reminder of Kashmir till their rights are restored. Using is fine too. Every bath will remind you of Kashmir. At the end of the day, everyone will do what they wish with their soaps.

How can people get the soap? How much do the soaps cost? 

You can buy on my site vidyut.info. Silenced valley is Rs.250. Kashmir is Rs. 650 ―  a bit expensive for soap but if you think of it as a work of art, it is really inexpensive for what you are getting. It is made of coconut and will last and last in use. And as you use the soap, the design will keep changing. So every few days, it will be like using a different soap. Even if you don’t buy, do check them out, read the descriptions, remember Kashmir.

Also on HuffPost