In the Shade of Fallen Chinar is a new short documentary exploring the relationship of art and resistance among young Kashmiris at Kashmir University. In the film, there is a fragile peace hovering over the Valley, and interesting questions are raised about the uses of art in a militarized and oppressed society. 

Institutional restrictions have long limited young people’s avenues for voicing dissent. At Kashmir University, the student union has been banned since the conflict in the 90s. Accordingly, the students who grew up in an Indian-occupied Kashmir marked by decades of unrest and violence, reveal how they channel their politics, anger, and despair into different forms of art in settings that are both underground and informal. Their motivations for turning towards the arts and literature differ. While one student describes it as a form of coping, or a type of escapism into aesthetics, Ali Saffudin, a young musician, explains that his guitar serves the same purpose a gun would have 20 years ago--an expression of his specific idea of resistance. 


Protestor in Kashmir returns a tear gas canister to soldiers of the Indian army//CRDT ABC

While the role of art as a political tool is an age-old one, Kashmir has been cultivating a renaissance in recent years. For instance, U.S. culture has witnessed the spoken poetry grow as a forum to discuss things such as race, sexuality, and personal experiences among young people. While across Eastern Europe, street art has been a vista of subversion, dissent and public political probing. It is perhaps in places like Kashmir, environments filled with intense repression and brutality in the service of ‘national integrity,’ where the importance of the underground artistic scene is viewed as a sigh of relief. When the local press is gagged, or when the national press is actually the nationalist press; when simply going outside, much less engaging in street protests can actually lead to death, then what platforms remain for the expression of an alternative narrative? In such suffocating atmospheres, the mere singing of a folk song can be filled with contemporary political undertones as well as the peoples' pain. 

Despite the relatively calm setting, the film has an eerie feel because of what we know has transpired in Kashmir after the cameras stopped rolling. The filming was completed only days before the July 8th killing of Burhan Wani, a popular and social-media savvy separatist fighter from southern Kashmir, by Indian forces. In the ensuing protests and subsequent brutal crackdown, at least 91 civilians have been killed so far and hundreds injured by pellet guns, a ‘non-lethal’ method of crowd control that has left many in danger of permanent blindness. A curfew has been put in place by the government during the uprising, and there have been clampdowns on the press. Some of the young men and women in the film--painters, musicians, rappers, writers-- could have by now become one of the many casualties of the trigger-happy force deployed against Kashmiris’ desire for freedom from, ironically, the 'world’s largest democracy'.