New Beginnings, Radical Possibilities
Kashmir Lit (KL): What invoked you to adopt this anthem for Kashmir? Please tell us its significance?
Zanaan Wanaan (ZW): As the Indian state stripped Kashmir of its partial autonomy on the 5th August by abrogating Article 370 and imposed an arbitrary communications ban, those of us who were stuck outside Kashmir was very apprehensive of the situation back home. With an addition to the armed troops to the already militarized region, we couldn’t sleep at nights thinking about all the things that could have been happening to our families in Kashmir.
The shock and subsequent survival in a post-August 5 world alienated a lot of Kashmiris. We came together as a group like never before- especially Kashmiris outside of Kashmir. Those of us who were already outside and those of us who made it shortly after held each other closely. We felt safest in each other’s company, we expected no one to understand our reality. In one such discussion of India’s brutalities unfolding around us, we were playing music in the background. As the faint sound of Bella Ciao came to the foreground amidst our growing silence, we started talking about the need to have songs of revolution in Kashmiri. We sat through the night talking about our histories, thinking about Azadi and the song wrote itself along the way. This song channelized our emotions- anger, frustration, helplessness, agitation in our own language. The song was inspired by the song, Bella Ciao, which has a history of being sung against oppressive regimes. A lot of countries had their version of Bella Ciao, so we wrote one for Kashmir. Also, we do not have many songs dedicated to our revolution, so this was our attempt at writing one. As we were writing the song, we wanted to keep the memories of our struggle alive and hope, too. They can occupy our land, control our resources, subject us to violence, but they cannot occupy our memories, they certainly cannot kill our hope for a free Kashmir. The song signifies that spirit.
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KL: Is it a literal translation with Kashmir specific words replaced or are they different lyrics sung to the rhythm and refrain the original song?
ZW: This is not a literal translation. While it replicates certain sentiments from the original song, of revolution and resistance, but the lyrics have been sung to the rhythm of the song. We wanted the lyrics to be simple, iterating words and phrases as they are spoken colloquially.
The song was released on the Kashmiri Women’s resistance day as a tribute to the resistance of the Kashmiri women against the Indian occupation. This song is informed by our history and the oppression of our land and bodies by the Indian State. It must be seen as a song of collective resistance. It speaks of our fight against the colonizer. As opposed to the representation of Kashmiris in the Indian “mainstream” media as the crying, wailing and mourning people, which often sees Kashmir and Kashmiris with an oriental and a patronizing eye, this song speaks of the fights that we have and continue to put up against the occupier. With references to incidences like the martyrdom of the 22 young men at the hands of Maharaja Hari Singh the song also throws light on the fact that the struggle of Kashmiris is older than the Indian Occupation. It speaks of incidents like the mass rape in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora by the Indian Army, the Sopore massacre, and the fake encounter at Machil by the Indian Army.
Besides, this song is written in Kashmiri to translate the emotion with as much originality as possible. It uses words like Phakh, Janaan, naad, jaebir, to reverberate the feeling with which it was written. We intended to address a Kashmiri audience, from a sense of solidarity and oneness.
The ideas of the song invoked in us the desire to create not just one but multiple songs telling stories of Kashmiri history. We chose to stick to the rhythm of Bella Ciao as we had started composing the lyrics to its tune. In a way, the song’s rich history of being a symbol of a protest anthem is the overarching theme we carried forward.
KL: Even many will see this as an acapella, there is a distinct element of marsiya in it- especially the sound of fist beating the chest. And with the mention of Karbala as well, are these deliberate resonances?
ZW: Yes, there are references in the song inspired by the incident of Karbala. The line ‘alam hyath che pakaan Kaeshir shahsawar’ has specifically been borrowed from marsiya which talks about the relentless spirit of Abbas ibn Ali holding on to the flag of resistance despite all the tactics of the oppressor to force them into submission. It holds symbolic meaning with respect to the context of Kashmir but is also literal in some ways, as the state flag was brought down after August 5. Marsiya is a distinct part of Kashmiri culture, and the narration and rhythm were inspired by the same.
KL: Why is the group called ‘Zanaan Wanaan’?
ZW: Zanaan Wanaan translates to ‘woman speaks’ which is exactly what we as a group of young Kashmiri women are trying to do. As Kashmiri Muslim Women, we bear multiple intersecting identities. There are a number of layers of our oppression. As women, we are subjected to oppression by patriarchy. As Muslim women, we are at the receiving end of the various forms of Islamophobia intertwined with misogyny. As Kashmiri Muslim women, India has been subjecting us to its colonial gaze for decades. We are being projected as docile, innocent, naïve women who are “beautiful” but scarred by the tragedy inflicted upon them by militants and armed groups from across the Line of Control. This narrative is propagated to legitimize the presence of the Indian Army in the region to safeguard these Kashmir ki Kalis from the vicious agents. We refuse the Indian media’s portrayal of us as crying mothers, sisters, and daughters as these pictures are clicked at our most vulnerable states. We mourn and yet we rise to pelt stones or write songs.
The name Zanaan Wanaan resonated with us as Kashmiri women, narrating the stories of Kashmiri struggle and envisioning our aspirations for Kashmir. It also was a very conscious decision to outline ourselves as a women’s group, it almost sounds like a command- Zanaan Wanaan: Women are speaking- Listen.
We chose to remain anonymous as a measure to protect ourselves against the repression of the Indian state.
KL: Any further plans for musical resistance?
ZW: Inshallah. Yes, we plan to carry this forward and write/sing more songs. Rhythm and music are deeply embedded in our culture, in the way we speak, in the way we express. It makes sense that it becomes a part of the way we resist as well.
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