Music and other art forms don’t exist outside of their social contexts of production. In a place like Kashmir, where that social context has been torn apart by the forces of occupation, public performances of music and art will always have to come face to face with the Kashmir’s political situation. All emancipatory movements, for freedom, independence, and liberation, have flourished through a radical critique of that art or thinking which reinforces domination. And, often that critique has taken the shape of art itself.
Indian commentators, liberal or otherwise, reduce questions of domination and resistance, and the entire history of the brutality of the Indian occupation in Kashmir, neatly into pre-packaged analytic categories like ‘women’, ‘minorities’, or ‘religion’. Reifying these categories as self-contained, and posing them as criticisms of what they find inconvenient in the Kashmiri political struggle, leads one to assume that women or minorities would by nature be opposed to the struggle for Azadi, and that their interests are totally at variance with the Kashmiri men. It is important to not fall for these too-neat categories, and evolve a radical critique that refuses to essentialize ‘women’, ‘men’, majorities’, or ‘minorities’, and which constantly scrambles up these codes of domination.
To see how men and women, majorities and minorities are posited as ‘questions’ to delegitimize the struggles of the oppressed, one only has to notice how the voices of the dominant elite remain free of such categorization. All of the elite voices appear ‘objective’ and univocal, and not tinged by subjective experiences or position of the speakers. When I hear a Radha Kumar or an MM Ansari, I don’t see a woman or a religious minority person speaking, yet both have repeatedly, and with bad faith, sought to invoke women and religious minorities as counterpoints to the ‘majority discourse of Azadi”.
This is not to say that as an oppressed people, Kashmiris must also replicate a univocal, droning voice like that of their oppressors. Instead, as we have always done, we have spoken and sang in each others voices, and that multiplication of voices toward the goal of freedom must continue.
Far from actually saving Kashmiri women from Kashmiri men, then, the Indian liberals have still not been able to find a Kashmiri woman to ‘save’ or a Kashmiri man to upbraid. Each time, they try to dig deeper, they only find themselves and their allies in Kashmir from whom Kashmiris, men and women, need to be saved, even if they can’t bring themselves to admit it. That is why generalities take over, like Kashmiri women ‘in general’ need to be saved from Kashmiri men ‘in general’.
Now this whole issues has been packaged as a question of freedom of expression. One can’t but see that more the liberal Indian elite seek to create universal rules about free speech, more they keep contradicting themselves in their own practices. Many of them have suggested that the right to free speech cannot be measured unless the right to offend accompanies it. And right on target, an Ashis Nandy or a Salman Rushdie and even Honey Singh perform, and are defended for performing, such universal rule to the hilt (even though an Akbar Owaisi is petitioned to be sent to jail). But now perversely, the liberal logic of offensive free speech could be extended to the group of those people who sadly abused the band on Facebook. How does such speech, as bad and retrograde as anyone else’s, transform into an issue worthy of positing as a question for the entire freedom struggle of the Kashmiris? Reading a newspaper like Times of India on the Internet, one finds Indian commentators regularly calling for genocide of Muslims and Kashmiris with casual abandon, yet liberal Indians never question their own right to have sovereignty or exercise self-rule given such pervasive fascist speech in their society.
I love good music, which to me is music that runs afoul of the glib narrative of the military occupation and domination. In 2008, the video montages of Kashmiris battling the forces of occupation, accompanied by the sounds of “Stone in my Hand” and “When I grow Older”, and later the powerful content and resounding voice of MC Kash was uplifting, and resonant of the people’s struggle. Would MC Kash’s music not be welcomed if he was a Kashmiri woman? Would it have made any difference if the ‘Stone in my Hand’ was sung by a woman?