Srinagar: On day 21 of the siege in Kashmir, 27-year-old Musthujab Makkolath started designing posters.
Following the reading down of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories on August 5, Makkolath, a Delhi based designer and digital art curator from Calicut, Kerala gathered the support of Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), a membership-based non-governmental organisation with chapters in both India and Pakistan, to raise awareness on the situation.
The first poster marking day 21 was designed on a mobile phone by Musthujab, mentioning the number of the days since August 5 lockdown against a black background. Sometimes he would use photographs and artworks on Kashmir by different artists along with their credits on the posters for the following days.
“When IAS officer, Kannan Gopinathan resigned from service, he mentioned that if he were an editor of a newspaper, he would simply put the number of days Kashmir has been under a communications lockdown on the front pages,” Musthujab told The Wire, adding that Gopinathan’s views on the lockdown gave them the idea to create everyday posters in solidarity with the people suffering due to the communications shutdown in Kashmir.
Gradually more volunteers joined the initiative of PIPFPD. The campaign also started adding some poems and writings of Kashmiri writers with the poster designs with each passing day as the communications blockade and internet shutdown continued in Kashmir.
“The collective effort of drafting the write-ups and sharing the posters along with the write-ups added to the impact of the posters,” said Musthujab, who first came to Delhi in 2016 to work as a volunteer in an NGO and now volunteers with different peoples’ groups and social movements including PIPFPD.
The posters struck a chord with people online and offline, including Kashmiris, living outside, who started sharing the posters on social media and using them as profile pictures on their WhatsApp and Facebook accounts. The posters were widely shared on different social media platforms.
Musthujab believes it’s “very important to respect the human rights and political freedom” of people in Kashmir. He says the reading down of Article 370 and the partition of the state is primarily aimed at “further marginalisation and complete political subjugation of the Kashmiri people”.
“The ruling regime in Delhi, with its unilateral decision, also aims to satisfy the long-standing demands of its ultra-nationalist electorate,” he says, adding that the state never stood for the Kashmiris and instead choked their voices and shut down their communications channels. “They only looked at the land of Kashmir. They never addressed the people or human rights violations in the Valley,” he said.
In the current situation, he says, it is “very important to stand with the people who are resisting the unethical, undemocratic and anti-people regime.”
“PIPFPD has consistently stood for justice, peace and democracy for decades. That’s why I decided to volunteer with their campaign on Kashmir by designing these posters,” he says.
Musthujab, who holds a Bachelors degree in Malayalam literature and a post-graduate degree in Mass Communication and Journalism, believes it is important to speak about Kashmir, and for Kashmir. The idea of the poster campaign, he points out, is not to be the voice of Kashmir but to amplify the voices from Kashmir – in art, poetry, and prose.
“Because the state is trying to silence the voice of Kashmir,” he said and added that art is a very important medium to express solidarity and dissent. “The campaign helps to build awareness about what’s happening in Kashmir and the difficulties faced by Kashmiris especially after the abrogation of Article 370.”
The Kashmir posters counting the days of the lockdown since August 5 have been used in different protests and marches taken out by different civil society groups. “People would also ask us about new posters if we delayed making one on any day,” said Musthujab who has many friends from Kashmir but hasn’t been to Kashmir yet. The text from the posters has also been translated into several languages including Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Bangla and once in Urdu as well.
Musthujab and PIPFPD received positive feedback, both online and offline, for designing the Kashmir posters showing the number of days of lockdown in Kashmir. Additionally, a number of hateful comments also came their way.
“Some people said we are sharing wrong information, while others said we are anti-national,” says Musthujab.
After the posters were widely shared online, the posters were also printed and exhibited during protest demonstrations and marches taken in different states against the scrapping of Article 370 and the subsequent communications shutdown imposed in the Valley since August 5.
The first exhibition in which the posters were displayed was held at ViBGYOR film festival, the largest alternative film festival in South Asia held in Thrissur, Kerala in the second week of November. The posters were also exhibited at the “Kashmir 100 days of repression” event organised at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The posters and write-ups were also exhibited at the National Convention of National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM) held at Puri.
Vijayan MJ, the National Secretary of PIPFPD-India chapter said the Kashmir poster campaign is one of the campaigns started by the member-based and volunteer-driven organisation that was founded with India and Pakistan chapters in 1994. The organisation also has members on both sides of Kashmir. The India Chapter has had co-chairpersons from Kashmir, including late veteran journalist and editor, Ved Bhasin.
“Since the lockdown began in Kashmir from August 5, the organisation has organized more than 30 events and protest marches in different cities against the government move to abrogate Article 370 and the subsequent communications shutdown in the state,” said Vijayan.
“We have always said that Kashmir is not a land issue between India and Pakistan and advocated for restoring the political and human rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
One of the posters designed by Musthujab, which was shared on te PIPFPD Facebook page, shows Day 78 of the siege in Kashmir with hashtags #KashmirCaged, #EndOccupation, #StandWithKashmir. An artwork from Ahmadabad based artist Rollie Mukerjee also used in the poster shows a Kashmiri woman who looks on as the shadows of the soldiers with their guns lurk around in the landscape.
Another ‘48 days’ poster shows a single apple on a branch with prison bars visible on the apple. In another poster, ‘45 Days #KashmirCaged’, Mahatma Gandhi is shown walking away from the red-coloured map of Kashmir, which lies in a cage. A poster shared on November 18 ‘106 Days’ shows an apple buried under snow depicting the damage done to the apple crop due to the heavy snowfall in November.
“Have some shame for spreading your hateful propaganda. Stop using lies and deceit to defame others. Stop mocking freedom,” one Facebook user commented on the poster shared on the PIPFPD Facebook page.
“Once a retired government servant wrote to PIPFPD stating that it’s trying to rake up a dead and done issue, and that we should move on,” says Vijayan. “He probably doesn’t realise that the campaign was started to stop people from forgetting the plight of the people of J&K.”
Musthujab believes each attack on the constitution – like the unilateral reading down of Article 370 of the constitution by the ruling BJP government – will also affect all the citizens of India.
“The BJP government is trying to demolish the constitution, the rights of the people, and the democracy at large,” he says, adding that it’s not only important to talk about the human rights of Kashmiris, but also respect and talk about the political aspirations of the people of Kashmir.
“It is time the oppressed people stand together to raise their voice,” he concludes.
All photos by Majid Maqbool.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and writer based in Srinagar.