This month India marks 75 years of independence from British rule, with the aftermath of partitionkeep ringing.
_Euronews Culture caught up with several women living on the Indian side of Kashmir to discuss how mindful rhymes of female hip-hop artists can emerge, deal with the obstacles of simmering and overt m_isogyny, and begin to thrive in a conservative country struggling with its recent and turbulent past.
Srinagar and Baramulla, in the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
In a bid to avoid heavy rain, 21-year-old Mehak Ashraf rushes to a gazebo in a public park, located in the Naseem Bagh district of Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir.
She takes a cell phone from her pocket, standing in one of the corners of the hexagonal structure, and plays a musical rhythm. The audio track is immediately followed by some lyrics in his own voice, singing his next song “So Cold”.
“I’ll probably release this song in the last week of August,” Ashraf said.
Inspired by the rap output of famed American rapper Marshall Bruce Mathers, commonly known as Eminem, Ashraf emerged in 2016 as the region’s first female hip-hop artist, under the stage name Menime.
Hip-hop from the Indian side of Kashmir emerged following the 2010 uprising sparked by the killing of three people by the Indian army in an alleged shootout. ‘I-Protest (Remembrance)’, an English rap track sung by then-teenager Roushan Illahi, also known as MC Kash, became the anthem of thousands of street protesters who came out in the streets and demanded ‘Indian freedom reign.’ MC Kash released the song in memory of the dozens of people killed in the uprising,
“I chose to become the voice of the voiceless after being inspired by Eminem’s struggle,” Ashraf told Euronews Culture. “An ordinary girl’s journey to Menime was fraught with difficulties, as I had to face a lot of criticism from my parents. But I did not lose hope and became a good rapper. known in Kashmir regardless,” she says, adding that her stage name is Eminem’s name reversed.
Ashraf tells Euronews Culture that his appearance on stage angered a lot of people. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. As a result, she was abused and trolled for promoting “vulgarity and Western culture” in a conservative society.
“I did not bow to such people and took it upon myself to perform in front of large audiences at multiple events in different parts of Kashmir,” Ashraf says. “My courage has inspired many young women to come forward and use rap as a medium to tell their stories.”
The emergence of female MCs
Rap music in the strife-torn region has remained confined to men for nearly a decade. However, over the past couple of years, at least a dozen female MCs have come forward to tell their stories across the genre which is hugely popular in Europe, America and many other parts of the world.
19-year-old Anam Nassir, known by the stage name Rapper Annie, dreamed of performing as a child.
“I discovered hip-hop when I was in 7th grade. [Year 6, last year of primary school] and I immediately realized that I will only be able to pursue my dream after becoming a rapper,” says Nassir. “I started practicing the genre by watching videos on YouTube and I released my song when I was 18, just to pay tribute to a friend of mine who died in an accident.”
Nassir shares that the first challenge was convincing his father, who believed rapping was not an option for girls in a place like Kashmir.
“My dad listened to me carefully and promised to support me after realizing the passion I had for the genre,” she says. “Today, he accompanies me everywhere – in the studio during recordings or in figures [informal gathering of rappers, beat-boxers and break-dancers in a circle in order to jam together]“, adds Nassir.
Nassir said she honed her skills by practicing regularly and aimed to become a top female hip-hop artist. “I am going to come out of Kashmir to learn the ropes and hone my skills as I seriously want to pursue a career in rapping,” she says.
Most male rappers, Nassir says, don’t support girls like her because of insecurity and jealousy as songs produced by female rappers become popular. “Most women identify with the lyrics that female hip-hop artists write, and only a handful of rappers who understand and appreciate the talent support us. Others don’t want us to expand into the realm of hip-hop. whoop.”
A powerful medium
One of those allies is Ahmer Jawed, an established rapper from Kashmir. He believes that hip-hop is a powerful medium through which an individual can highlight many issues. He notes the need for women to come forward to present their views in front of larger crowds.
“I feel like it’s necessary. In our society, there are so many issues they can bring to light, and their perspectives are important,” says Jawed. “Hip hop is very powerful because it lets you express yourself, your struggles, and I think female rappers need to express themselves. Women face a lot of things and their voice matters,” says the rapper, who is said to be the face behind the conscious rap revival in the region – especially since the 2019 release of his album “Little Kid Big Dreams” in collaboration with India’s independent label Aazadi Records.
Iqra Nissar, 14, alias: Yung Illa, has sung more than ten songs since her debut last year.
Currently, she is the youngest female rapper in her hometown of Baramulla district in North Kashmir.
“The first song I produced was against sexual violence,” Iqra told Euronews Culture. “I too had to face opposition from my parents, especially my father, but over time he supported me and allowed me to become a rapper,” she says.
Iqra claims that she never misses an opportunity to be numbered, as it helps her understand how much effort she has to put in to become a professional rapper.
“I like other female rappers. I’m a self-taught artist. I was writing lyrics when I was just seven or eight,” she says. hope to make more improvements over time because I have chosen to make rap my career.”
Iqra says that although there is abuse, a large number of people support her. She prefers to focus on the positive feedback she receives.
“The support and prayers of well-wishers keep me going,” she shares. “I promise all abusers that one day they will praise me and be proud of me.”
About the authors:
Muheet Ul Islam is a journalist and filmmaker based in the Indian part of Kashmir. He holds an MA in Convergent Journalism from Central University of Kashmir.
Nawsheena Mushtaq is a Kashmir-based writer and researcher.