Healing Kashmir’s wounds

November 8, 2012

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

When I saw four young Kashmiri boys at a music contest perform English and Urdu tunes in Srinagar, I could not believe my ears and eyes that it was really happening in Kashmir.

Kashmir’s centuries-old music was silenced by the sounds of bomb explosions and booming guns after a bloody revolt against Indian rule broke out in this disputed region over two decades ago. Music schools, liquor shops, beauty parlors and cinemas were closed in the Valley in 1989 and conservative Islamic ideas were propagated by armed militant groups.

The sounds of drums and guitars and the singer’s voice caught my attention, driving me to want to meet them after the performance. I met them back stage and found myself wanting to know more about them. So, I planned to do a story on the youths. I received a call telling me they were planning a jam session in their house. Excitedly, I went to met them immediately. I was received warmly and taken into an old building in an uptown locality of Srinagar. There was little light in the room with just two lamps that weren’t working properly. As I tried to help fix the lights, the music began to get louder and I started taking pictures.

“Sign – the signature of music” is a four-member rock band of Kashmir’s new generation, aged between 17 and 18 years, who grew up amid the conflict and now want to spread the “message of love and peace”.

The violence, involving security forces and militants, killed tens of thousands of people and left nothing untouched across Kashmir, a scenic region and once the heart of Sufi Islam in the subcontinent.

It took almost 15 days for the band to find a sponsor for a live concert as the boys perform between their studies and don’t have money to perform on their own dime. Finally the day came and they were scheduled to perform at a music show in a Srinagar college. The audience was mesmerized.

These days, as violence has decreased significantly since India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004, the militants’ hold over daily life in the valley has eased. The sound of a rock band is soothing in Kashmir, which was otherwise an easy going society but has been blighted by decades of violence. Traditional theater and music are also being revived. Until recently the roar of guns and bombs drowned out all sounds but now a cacophony of melodies from guitar and drums is sweeping Kashmir’s war-weary youngsters with a message of love and peace.

Dressed in Western outfits, the musicians and singers say the purpose of their band is to try to erase the scars of violence. The band began performing four years ago but now more people are confident enough to attend its shows.

The multilingual band — which performs in English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi — continue to hold music concerts and also continue their studies.

But the question remains – will the young boys who were born at the peak of a bloody conflict help heal the wounds of Kashmiris?

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