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Meet Kashmir's rising female rappers

December 08, 2022
topics: Arts
by: Sajad Hameed
located in: India
tags: art, Kashmir, music, rap, women's rights

Three prominent female rappers in the conflict-torn region spoke to FairPlanet about using rap as a tool of dissent in the face of gender-based discrimination and death threats.

The ongoing violence in Indian-administered Kashmir - which erupted following India and Pakistan's partition in 1947 and has worsened over the last three decades - affects individuals of all ages, genders and socio-economic backgrounds.

As a result, many Kashmiris suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and, according to a 2009 study, half of the population is is afflicted by some level of depression.  

But when it comes to mental health in the region, disparities exist along gender lines.

According to a 2015 mental health survey by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), 50 percent of women in Kashmir - compared to 37 percent of men – suffer from probable depression; 36 percent of women (and 21 percent of men) had a probable anxiety disorder and 22 percent of women (18 percent of men) suffered from probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One possible explanation to these mental health disparities is that Kashmiri men are able to vent their resentment and frustration through protests and music - including rap songs - mostly in the local Kashmiri language. Women in the region, on the other hand, often find it difficult to express their pain, largely due to the Islamisation of society and attendant adherence to highly conservative values.

But the tide, it seems, is beginning to change, as young women and girls in Kashmir are breaking societal stereotypes - partly through rapping.

The power of rap 

Rap culture first emerged in Kashmir in 2010, when a 17-year-old boy named Tufail Mattoo was killed by forces while returning home from his tuition classes during a street protest in his Srinagar neighbourhood of Safa Kadal.

His death sparked months-long protests in the valley, which resulted in the killing of around 120 civilians by government forces.

Many Kashmiris chose rap as the medium through which to express their dissent and anger at the authorities' actions, but women's interest in the genre was viewed as shameful and therefore suppressed. 

Yet over the last few years, dozens of Muslim female rappers in Kashmir have started use this art form to document the heinous crimes and human rights violations carried out by the local security forces.

The Indian authorities have actively tried to silence hundreds of male rappers through intimidation, censorship and daily harassment, and scores of rappers and trenchant critics of the government were forced to leave the region.

But despite these threats and challenges, young female rappers are openly criticising the Indian government through their music, while calling out the gender biases that perpetuate their discrimination. 

Currently, there are about six female rappers making music in Kashmir and hundreds of rap songs are available on social media sites.

The voice of freedom: Iqra Nisar

Iqra Nisar, 19, a 9th-grade student from Kashmir, is an emerging female rapper. Speaking to FairPlanet, Nisar, who goes by the stage name Rapper Yung Illa, mentioned a hip-hop song she wrote titled Kash-Gang about the killing of Burhan  Wani - a popular militant commander of the Kashmir armed resistance movement - in a gun battle with government forces on 8 July, 2016, which sparked days of deadly violence that resulted in the killing of several civilians.

"When I wrote my freedom song in 2016, there was a huge hue and cry and the whole of Kashmir was mourning the death of Hizb Commander Burhan Wani," she said. "I wrote in my rap song. but couldn't upload it on social media, fearing state oppression. Recently I uploaded it after my friend's insistence." 

After uploading her song, however, some of Nisar’s friends and relatives asked her to remove it out of concerns for her safety. But Nisar didn't budge.

"I wrote the Azadi [freedom] Rap because I have seen a lot of youngsters being arrested and killed without any justification. I saw young people getting killed in fake encounters and thought I should do something to tell the world what is happening in Kashmir."

"As a young rapper, I believe that I need to resist these human rights abuses through my rap songs," she added. "If not me, then who will stand well for my people and narrate their suffering? I have written only one but I'll write more about it at any cost."

But Nisar's debut in the local rap scene was replete with challenges. She added that when she started singing rap, there were no studios she could record in, except for a few underground ones that were so discreet people hardly knew about them. 

Nisar also stated that her parents were extremely concerned and fearful at the prospect of her doing rap, because they live in what she calls a 'conservative state.'

"In a male-dominated society like Kashmir," she said, "as a female, you won't get a good platform and people won't support you."

Nisar started uploading rap songs to social media and gradually started to gain more popularity.

"I wasn't having that much exposure, but right now so many people are coming forward, showing their talent and breaking the stereotypes," she added. "We all are learning from each other."

"I believe that I need to resist these human rights abuses through my rap songs."

Facing death threats: Anam Nasir

"When I stepped into this profession, I got death threats," Anam Nasir, a 19 year-old female rapper from Kashmir, told FairPlanet. "As we know, Kashmir is a very conservative society and male-dominant. Here people don't like girls doing such things. They can't see a female coming out and leveling up, they are jealous of women."

"As per my thinking, they think they can break a woman's mindset by sending her threats," the young rapper, who goes by the moniker Rapper Yung Illa, added. "But I wasn't scared of anything." 

"I kept my focus on my talent and didn't care about people's thoughts," she further shared. "My mother is my biggest support and she kept telling me to focus on my goal and that nobody will harm me. On several occasions, I thought of quitting this profession, considering the danger that comes with it, but my mom gave me the courage not to surrender."

According to Nasir, who goes by her stage name, Rapper Annie, her interest in rap started when she was in fourth grade. 

Nasir believes that it was Talha Anjum, a young Pakistani rap musician, who inspired her. His rap songs are based on Pakistani culture and the daily life in the country, and she thought she would do the same. 

"My family supports me a lot, but due to financial constraints, my father doesn’t pay much heed to my profession, she said. "My relatives used to taunt my mother that 'you have spoiled her daughter' and used to tell her not to let me do such things. But my Mom stood like a rock with me. She used to tell them that 'Anam is my daughter, and it's my decision to support her or not.' "

Challenging gender norms: Mehak Ashraf

Mehak Ashraf, 21, who is doing her Bachelor's in art, is one of the leading female rappers and a lyricist in Indian-administered Kashmir, and has been rapping since the age of 12.

Known locally by her stage name Rapper Menime, Ashraf does not confine her songs to the war, but also focuses on daily life in the region.

"Rap music where you talk about whatever is happening in your surroundings or life and express that through rap," Ashraf told FairPlanet. "Rap music educates people with different perspectives and raises awareness on so many social evils, be it political, social or any other thing."

Ashraf believes that through rap, one can easily vent their anger and emotions and express their goals and aspirations. 

"I found rap music to be a mode to express myself," she said. "I have some topics from my struggles and my journey, be it my parents, who are not very supportive, women’s empowerment, the struggle of women and what they go through."

"There are some raps [about Kashmir], I have written, but right now I don't want to talk about them, you know, about serious topics," she added. "I don't want to touch sensitive topics and fall into controversy."

"My parents were very concerned about me, knowing the conservative society we live in," she shared. "In our society, rap music gets lesser support - even male artists didn't get many platforms, so how would a female get it easily?

"In Kashmir, as a female rapper, you will not get a good platform. So, I started it from social media and then I slowly became popular. My parents told me not to do this, but I didn't pay any heed to their request and want other girls to do the same."

Ashraf added that people previously were not well-versed in the world of rap music, but said that "the young generation is giving their 100 percent to bring hip-hop to Kashmir."

"I am sure my contribution will be remembered," she said.

Image by Sajad Hameed

Article written by:
SAJAD HAMEED
Sajad Hameed
Author
India
Iqra Nissar, also known as Rapper Yung Illa.
Iqra Nissar, also known as Rapper Yung Illa.
© Sajad Hameed
Mehak Ashraf, also known as Rapper Menime.
Mehak Ashraf, also known as Rapper Menime.
© Sajad Hameed
Anam Nassir, also known as Rapper Annie.
Anam Nassir, also known as Rapper Annie.
© Sajad Hameed
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