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A struggle to speak and be heard

Published May 27, 2011 01:23pm


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“I’ve seen and shivered in crackdowns, cried at funerals, inhaled tear gas too many times, got used to gun shots and blasts and you can picture the rest,” says Roushan Illahi aka MC Kash.

Roushan Illahi isn’t like any youth in Indian-administered Kashmir Valley. He’s special. He’s a rapper. A poet. His rhymes are as much about him as they are about the countless youth who live in Kashmir -- the world’s highest militarised zone, which also has the highest suicide rate in the world.

Born in 1990, at the peak of the armed insurgency, Roushan, who calls himself MC Kash, and hails from a middle-class family says he has seen “no fancy stuff in all the little time I’ve been alive.” At 20, Roushan is a man on a mission. He sees himself “as a storyteller who walks the graveyards”. He laughs, “I am a student who’s in love with truth. See, my father taught me three H’s – honesty, humility and hard work. That’s all I get reminded of whenever I do something.”

Roushan shot to fame in 2010 -- the year where 123 people were shot in the Valley during pro-freedom demonstrations -- with I Protest (Remembrance), dedicated to Kashmiris. The mellow beat peppered with gunshots betrays the angst felt by not only those who have lived to see atrocities by the Indian security forces over two decades, but also the future generations grapple with brutal state violence marred to a culture of impunity.

In this song, Roushan makes a reference to the “sponsored media who hide this genocide”. There is also a line about the mass rape of the Kashmiri women of Kunanposhpora village in the northern district of Kupwara by a battalion of the Indian army in the early nineties. The song ends with Roushan chanting the names of  “all those martyred” in the summer of 2010.

Mostly all of Roushan’s songs depict the perils of living in a militarised society, under “occupation”. One of them goes like this, “They told me I’ll lose my dreams if I blink/Walk with my head down and get shot before I think/Kiss the soil of Kashmir and get stabbed in the back/Talk in simplicity like Gandhi and still get clapped.”

Also ‘Truth’ is a central theme in Roushan’s rhymes. In Bow to the Ground, he chants, “When truth is your weapon, you don’t have a shield. But Allah protects you and faith is all you need.”

Finally, the world can put a face to the voice and the words. Roushan’s latest video Beneath This Sky was released a couple of weeks ago. It got many hits on Facebook's MC Kash (Official) page. Despite the recognition, Roushan remains firmly attached to his past and is able to trace its influences in his work.

About his life, Roushan reveals that he has “grown up and spent my first six years in an area where the ‘Kashmiri sentiments’ run deeper than blood… where a number of mujahideen came from, where the martyrs have special graveyards (that’s the same with every locality out here in Kashmir).  I’ve seen and shivered in crackdowns, cried at funerals, inhaled tear gas too many  times, got used to gun shots and blasts and you can picture the rest,” he says like one of the thousands of children who have never known peace.

The environment was not conducive and Roushan’s family decided to move out. “We shifted to another place where we practically had a house and a more ‘calm’ neighbourhood. I mean nothing happened out here. No protests. We had army all around us. It’s like one of the biggest camps here in Srinagar. In a way, I got a chance to breathe in an air that never smelled of tear gas.” Recalling the past, Roushan reflects, “I’m blessed to have been brought up by such beautiful parents. They always gave me that freedom to be what I wanted to be… to do what I wanted to do. They did their best to keep me and my brother safe”.

Inspired by the slain American rapper Tupac Shakur, Roushan was never motivated to rap. Shakur was shot when Roushan was only six years old.

For Roushan, rap happened as a way of blowing steam – a mode of expression. “I would say some pretty ugly personal experiences had me contemplating, like I needed to ‘express’ myself and the way I felt about different stuff. Then I started to rhyme. Nothing happens in one day. I was a shy guy at school, never took part in nothing, you know what I’m saying? All I know is that I needed to speak out and hip-hop was the best platform I knew.”

Roushan likes to read. He also loves to write. He elaborates, “I like to learn, most importantly.” Roushan also smokes cigars and hangs around with his friends. “Manchester United. I mean, I’m 20. I got all that you see in a twenty year old. I’m nothing different, just one thing that I stood up for my people and I know how beloved truth is to me ‘cause I have seen it inspire people,” he plainly states.

But unlike any 20-year-old, Roushan has more than one icon he motivates him and that resonates in his lyrics. “See all the Holy Prophets, they are an inspiration for me. I mean you will hear the names of Moses and John the Baptist too. I derive a lot of motivation from their stories. How, they would fight for the truth. How they believed and got through.”

Roushan wants his music to play a role - educate and inspire. He adds, “Probably all I want is to make people ‘think’. Hey! I’ve just sowed a seed. People need to sit back and watch it flourish. Insha’Allah.”

This articulate and bright youngster has his own take on the several decades-old conflict that plagues his beautiful land. The resolution, he says, is simple. “Let the Kashmiris decide. It’s our land. Our soil. No Pakistan. No India. It’s we who die. It’s we who suffer. I don’t know why everybody else is blind to this basic fact. This ‘conflict’ is fought on our soil, so let us decide how to end it.”

This singer and songwriter had a couple of offers of touring from Delhi and Mumbai but nothing formulated. “I guess nobody wants riots. Don't know what future will hold for me, all I can do is work hard and stay true. But I would love to be at places and express myself.”

Roushan has also faced flack from the security agencies for his anti-India lyrics. But that has not deterred him off track, “It’s funny the way my studio got raided by the police. I mean what did the studio people do? Nonetheless, because of it, I’ve been without a recording space for three to four months now. Every other studio just doesn’t want me to be around, you know what I’m saying? Lord keeps me strong though and my mother’s blessings have kept me safe.”

The writer is an Indian journalist and the recipient of Agence France-Presse Kate Webb Prize for her work in Indian-administered Kashmir.


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Comments (14) Closed

Ravi May 27, 2011 07:32pm
I understand MC Kash's sentiments and suffering, but I don't agree with his argument that "Kashmir is their land". This is the whole issue? On what basis he claims that 'it is their land'. of course there is no basis that I can claim that Kashmir is our land, but it is a fact that the land belongs to a larger culture that existed and flourished in this continent for centuries, from Afghan till Myanmar...the culture within which Islam found a home and established it self...and now you talk about separating it! Is it not back-stabbing? Since you ask for a separate land i have no shame in telling on your face that how dare you break my home as an outsider (go back to your roots). The sentiments in India still run hot over the partition of India. For almost every Indian it meant cutting our motherland into two pieces. Asking for a separate room in a home where many cultures existed is too much and mean. Kashmir and Kashirmiriyat would have been more safer and well preserved just as many different identities in India have flourished and we exist! The seeds that you are sowing are of evil nature! It won't help any cause.
mir liyaqat May 27, 2011 08:20pm
really this young rapper has made us proud by waging a single handed battle against the subjugation, suffocation and occupation. we salute your courage and optimism.
Mirza May 27, 2011 10:08pm
MC Kash's songs are brilliant. His rhymes such as "I Protest" and "Beneath the Skies" are beautiful yet present the stark ground reality in Kashmir about the suffering of Kashmiris at the hands of the Indian occupational forces. He is a real talent. All the best MC Kash... maybe you are the voice that the Kashmiris need to fulfill their long struggle for freedom. May Allah bless you!
Mirza May 27, 2011 10:10pm
MC Kash’s songs are brilliant. His rhymes such as “I Protest” and “Beneath this Sky” are beautiful yet present the stark ground reality in Kashmir about the suffering of Kashmiris at the hands of the Indian occupational forces. He is a real talent. All the best MC Kash… maybe you are the voice that the Kashmiris need to fulfill their long struggle for freedom. May Allah bless you!
mubashir May 27, 2011 10:21pm
Roushan i know u can much better..But If U Went My Pray For U.So Js Give Me Chance To Sing A Rap Song With U... Inshallah My Dream Will Be True
abdul wajid May 27, 2011 11:04pm
Salaam... Unlike the sangbaaz(stone pelters) or any other run of the mill that register their protests online on facebook or like, this gutsy young man bombards with something more effective, something abstract and intangible. MC kash uses the invincible words tuned to the truth in the beats of reality of Kashmir. MAy Allah Bless Roushan and his kins..Aamen
jag May 27, 2011 11:43pm
i really feel sorry for roushan but i have few questions towards him? What will he say about the innocent people who died in mumbai without reason.? They were not throwing stones at anybody? He says they want to decide about their land then what about the pandits land? Whay were they killed for no reasons? He complains about army so let me tell him we have to spend lot of money to keep our army there ? The same amount if spent on reaserch india would have more advanced technology than any other country in world.. So my dear friend we are the needed by each other insted of giving interviews to dawn if he had written this to any indian editor ?it would have been great. Regarding studio if u cant tell the truth dont tell the lie.
meenal May 28, 2011 02:23am
They shut down his studio? i thought India was a democracy...
A shah May 28, 2011 02:52am
Well done my boy I am proud of you for standing up for what you believe in but don't forget that you can express yourself and say these things because of where you are. India has a true democracy and allows all of it's children freedom of speech. What you fight against is what allows you to do what you do! Try saying some anti Pakistan words in Karachi and see how fast you disappear try singing these songs in Libya, Syria, Iraq (old regime) etc only then you will appreciate what India has given you. I am Pakistani and can only admire what you have from afar. We can all but dream son.
pm May 28, 2011 06:00am
Well...Who started the insurgency and violence in the name freedom and in the veil of Islamic intolerance. Now owned it!!!
Amar Singh May 28, 2011 09:42am
I hope someday he will sing about the plight of kashmiri hindus as well. good job.
david May 28, 2011 12:45pm
Sad, the singer,and the journalist herself, does not talk about the hindu kashmiris they have forced to leave the valley.It is this indifference towards others which make others resent the muslims wherever they are.
Altaf May 28, 2011 01:34pm
no matter how much hatred you publish, there is a sea difference between Pak occupied kashmir and India Adminstered Kashmir... If you don't believe than come and see the valley urself..
nitin gulhane May 28, 2011 09:37pm
Good to know that quality education (in English) and access to songs by rappers like Tupak is available in Kashmir. And the guy has his own studio!!! It sounds more like Indian metro than Kashmir.