India-Backed Forces Order Kashmir’s Poets to Go Silent

BALHAMA, Kashmir — As the solar slipped behind the Himalayas, the poet picked his means down to the rocky riverbed. He regarded left and proper to ensure that no one was watching. Then, to the burbling water, he started to learn:

Each phrase spoken right here meets censors and checks

Yesterday those sermonizing on dignity

Have as we speak impolite daggers kissing their necks.

All his life, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat has learn the poetry of resistance to anyone who would pay attention. During the mid-1990s peak of the insurgency in his house of Kashmir, the starkly lovely land lengthy claimed by each India and Pakistan, he sang eulogies for militants at their funerals.

For that, the native authorities dragged him to detention facilities, the place he wrote poetry and skim it to fellow detainees after they have been hung by their wrists and compelled to stare at high-voltage lamps. All he wanted, he mentioned, was a pen and a chunk of paper.

Now, greater than twenty years later, Mr. Bhat — who writes below the pen title Madhosh Balhami — reads and composes poetry in secret.

“In the last 30 years I have never seen this kind of suppression,” he mentioned. “There is silence everywhere, as if the silence is the best cure for our present crisis.”

Ms. Zabirah now takes inspiration from Kashmir’s military checkpoints, bristling with soldiers and endless roadblocks:

The pathways leading to and from

my worn-out heart are sealed

with concertina wire

Stay put till the heart rebels

we will both escape one day

and leave behind a vibrant nation

The Indian government, which has grown weary of the region’s persistent violence, has argued that it can better guarantee individual rights by taking firm control and said it has a plan to reinvigorate the regional economy. Officials in Kashmir did not respond to requests for comment.

Nirmal Singh, a top leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and former deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the formal name for the India-controlled territory, said officials want to curb the separatist activities that have long flourished in the Kashmir valley.

“Be it poets or anyone else, questioning India’s territorial integrity will not be allowed. If you speak about azadi or Pakistan, that will not be allowed,” said Mr. Singh, referring to the Kashmir term for independence. “You can speak anything within the limits of the Indian constitutional framework. Nobody will be stopped.”

Local officials have taken a tough stance on where those limits lie. Journalists are told what to write, and some have been barred from flying out of the country. The police have threatened to slap antiterrorism charges on reporters who tweet about conditions there.

Since 2019, more than 2,300 people have been jailed under stringent sedition and antiterrorism laws, which criminalized such activities as raising slogans or posting political messages on social media, according to one Indian media outlet.

Even peaceful protests are quickly stopped by police. On Aug. 5, the second anniversary of India’s crackdown, many Kashmiri shopkeepers locked their doors in protest. Then in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, plainclothes men armed with long iron rods and blades began cutting the locks on the doors and gates of shuttered shops, forcing owners to return.

The police appeared with the men cutting the locks and did nothing to stop them. When asked by a reporter why the police were there, one officer said they were protecting shopkeepers. Another shooed journalists away.

Kashmir has long stood as a crossroads between the Hindu and Muslim worlds. Its poetry reflects that rich history and celebrates the land’s ivory-tipped mountaintops, crystalline lakes and dazzling wildflower fields.

But for centuries, Kashmir’s poets and politics have been intertwined. Lal Ded, an influential poet who wrote in the 1300s, has been claimed by Hindus and Muslims alike. A 14th-century mystic, Sheikh Noor-ud-Din, used his writing to spread Islam as well as his idea regarding social reform and individual mores in Kashmiri society.

Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri-American poet who died in 2001, brought contemporary recognition to the region’s poetic traditions — and used the violence of the 1990s uprising as inspiration:

I am writing to you from your far-off country.

Far even from us who live here

Where you no longer are.

Everyone carries his address in his pocket

At least his body will reach home.

The militants sought full independence from India, sparking years of violence. Though the fighting eventually ebbed, separatists have lingered in the region for years and enjoyed support among large parts of the population.

Then a suicide bombing killed more than 40 Indian soldiers and a subsequent military clash between Indian and Pakistan erupted near their disputed Kashmir border, leading to New Delhi’s crackdown in the summer of 2019.

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