Framed within the image of a Kashida-embroidered shawl is the photograph of the Kashmiri students who fled Dehradun after the recent Pulwama attack. The image shows the nervous, helpless youth huddled together in a makeshift shelter in Chandigarh, where they sought refuge after they came under attack by mobs stirring an anti-Kashmiri rhetoric. Amplifying the power of the image, the text below reads, “Who would I hate to prove my patriotism, when night engulfs us all.”
Released within a couple of days after Kashmiris across India came under attack, the artwork is part of a poster campaign in the run-up to a series of protest performances that will take place across close to ten cities this weekend. Led by a Delhi-based independent artists collective, Artists Unite, in association with similar local groups from each city, the performances are aimed at speaking out against violence and hate politics that has been on a steady rise in the country over the last few years.
“There is a huge assault on culture and our everyday lives are affected. People are being attacked for what they eat, what they say or their very markers of identity. Take for example the recent ostracisation of Kashmiris,” says Gurugram-based independent filmmaker Rahul Roy, a member of Artists Unite. “Since artists work in the field of culture, a large number of us decided to come together to raise our voice against it in the way we know best — through art.”
The protest performances will take place on March 2 across several cities including Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Dharvad, among others. The form of the protest, however, will vary from city to city.
For instance, Mumbai will witness a “juloos” where close to 1,000 artists from across disciplines will march from Chaityabhoomi in Dadar to Carter Road in Bandra. “The march will comprise choreographed music, dance and theatre performances that raise pertinent questions and issues that the country is currently plagued by,” says a member of 2020, the Mumbai-based artist collective that is organising the march. The team of 2020, which includes Shireen Gandhy and Sudhir Patwardhan, hopes that people from across the city will join them on the day of the march.
Delhi, however, will see a mega-event over two days on March 2-3 where close to 200 prominent artists will take stage at the 15th August Park in Red Fort. The organisers have set up five different stages at the venue for a variety of programmes scheduled. “One evening stage from 4-10pm will see among others, singers Shubha Mudgal and Rabbi Shergill; performers Aditi Mangaldas and Astad Deboo; Sheetal Sathe, formerly of Kabir Kala Manch; and stand-up comic Sanjay Rajoura perform. A day stage from 11am-4pm is dedicated for theatre groups, dastangoi and poetry. There are open mic events, art spaces and a documentary film tent too,” Roy adds.
The series of events have found participation and support from some of the biggest names across the cities, including Arundhati Roy, Sanjna Kapoor, Sameer Kulavoor, Sanjay Kak among others. Many have also been aiding the poster campaign as part of which the collectives release one poster every night, anonymously created by one of the artists.
The idea behind these events, timed together in multiple cities at such a scale, says Roy, is to reach out to as many people as possible. “The times we are living in currently…we don’t have the luxury of thinking about impact. It is an emergency situation. We artists have to be out, saying and doing things against the sentiment of hate. Right now, the biggest assault is on culture and so, the response and resistance has to come from within culture too,” Roy says.
The members of 2020 second Roy: “Social media is buzzing with hate rhetoric against certain communities instead of condemning acts of terrorism. And today, after India’s military response to Pulwama, groups of people have been distributing sweets on the streets. Condemning hate is the need of the hour and that is what we aim to do through the march.”