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Why did they have to torture him like that? Moina-pehi, who had also seen the body, couldn’t eat for three days. She retched and retched. I couldn’t sleep for many days as well. Moina-pehi was among the women who cried the most, wondering aloud if the man had loved someone, wanted to marry someone, if he had a sister. His only crime was that he was the elder brother of an ULFA member and the ULFA member, his brother, had refused to surrender to the government and take the money that the government was dishing out so that he could return to society by setting up a business.
‘When someone climbed up the pole with a bamboo ladder and cut off the rope that had tied the corpse to the pole by its fingerless wrists, the body had fallen exactly on the portion of the road we avoid stepping on now. It’s been almost three months since this happened. More killings are taking place every day. But this was the most horrific spectacle. The East Bengali villagers who use the Pokoria River most of the time say that they have started finding body parts of unknown human beings at regular intervals, almost every fortnight or so. They are so scared that they haven’t even informed the police.
‘But on that ground where that corpse fell—we still can’t walk. Because we saw him first. I will never be able to walk on it. I feel his ghost will enter my soul. It is also a way of respecting the man, you know? His mother had cried so much. We hoped that she would faint and fade away and not have to go through the trauma, but she didn’t. His wife did, though. The night before, four masked men had taken him away from his house. He was sleeping after a meal. There were guests. His wife howled, saying how much he loved the turtle curry. When the corpse fell, the blood had splattered around the pole, Pabloo. So much blood.’ Aruni Kashyap is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Ashoka University, Sonepat, India Illustrations by Divya Adusumilli based on the novel The House with a Thousand Stories in conversation mir suhail
W hy do you call yourself a “political” cartoonist?
I have drawn for as long as I can remember. As a child my school books were full of the cartoons I drew so much so that the teachers at our school would complain to my mother. But she came from a family of the artists, my grandfather was a well-known rabbabist of the valley, so she understood my instincts and supported my scribbles. Growing up during the militancy, I would unconsciously create images of what was going on around me with a pinch of my sense of satire. Slowly, I felt a sense of responsibility towards what I created and was keen to share it with an audience so I began working with the newspapers based in the valley at the age of 17.
I am 24 now and it has been quite a journey!
How did growing up in a conflict zone influence your work?
I think it would be wrong to say that my work is influenced by violence. My work exists as result of it and as a response to it. In fact, the work itself is a violence. I am a Kashmiri political cartoonist and central to my work is understanding relationships between power and people, rulers and subjects, a relationship founded on violence. The same could be true for those who engage in art, anywhere. But Kashmir is different not only because of the vast scale of violence but also the cover of impunity it operates under.
What role are you playing as a cartoonist in Kashmir’s struggle? Do you think you can influence the political mood?
I think art is about the truth. For Kashmiris, conceptions of freedom, the value of a human life, rights and dignity, things which we are taught about in school, have been perverted to a degree where they lose all meaning they were invested with and become oxymorons. This is foundation of my satirical work. My cartoons are a work of satire and I think satire, in a situation like ours, a situation in which typed words fail us, brings my audience closer to the truth. I don’t think I can influence the political mood, it is the other way round.
Art is non-violent. But you say the issue in Kashmir is about violence. What you think is the role of art in a violent political situation?
Art is not violent in a conventional sense but that does not mean it is devoid of violence in the larger discourse that surrounds it. Of course, this depends on the context the work of the artist occupies. I am a Kashmiri, my right to life has been suspended since the day I was born, I grew up quite literally in the shadow of the gun, in the world’s most militarized region. How is it possible for even a single stroke of my brush to be non-violent in any sense when it occupies such a violent space?
Are there any particular images or memories that had a deep impact on your work?
Yes, there are some images that I think will live in my mind forever. I think every Kashmir has an image of violence that stays with them forever. I was so little, I couldn’t understand how it happened but I remember when an entire locality in downtown Srinagar was set on fire. Even today, when I pass that place, it is as if the houses are still on fire. I can’t even look at that place anymore. Of course these images show in my artwork, I make it a point to do so. I borrow from memory, not only my own but from the memories my friends and my family have shared with me. A purpose of my cartoons is to give shape to painful memories from our past. But even our present is so difficult. How do we remember the present? I always think about this.
Sometimes art can lead to violence. For example the Danish cartoons about Prophet Mohammad led to a lot of violence. How do you respond to it?
As a Kashmiri, what do you think is the biggest challenge to peace in the region? How can the situation change?
Peace is loaded word. A noted Kashmiri poet once said that ‘they make a desolation and call it peace.’ We have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq that a manufactured peace does not last despite massive spending.
Any conception of peace in Kashmir has to take into account the aspirations of the Kashmiri people themselves, something that has not happened until now. To me, doing this will be the biggest challenge.
As an artist, what impact do you hope your art can create? Is it to amuse people or make them politically aware?
T his selection of resources can be used to further your own education in arts and activism, or can be used in the classroom with students.
Beautiful Trouble: Toolbox for a Revolution http://beautifultrouble.org/ Beautiful Trouble is “is a book, web toolbox and international network of artist-activist trainers whose mission is to make grassroots movements more creative and more effective.” The book and web site explore theories, principles, tactics, case studies and practitioners to educate and inspire creative, nonviolent action for social change. Tactics in the toolbox include creative action discussed including creative disruption, advanced leafleting, creative petition delivery and culture jamming.
Organization Center for Artistic Activism http://artisticactivism.org/services/the-school-for-creative-activism/ The Center for Artistic Activism provides training and courses on using the arts for social change. They do not train people to be activists; rather, they work with professional activists to think about how they can bring creativity and beauty to their work and think of innovative ways to engage in their work.
Pete Seeger: The Power of Song http://video.pbs.org/video/2365166823/ “We’ve all got to be involved in putting this world together.” -Pete Seeger Pete Seeger, one of America’s greatest folk musicians, passed away in January 2014 and this biographical film, which was first released in 2008, was recently rebroadcast on PBS in honor of his memory. The film chronicles his career and how Pete used music as a vehicle for social change, singing for human rights, peace and justice. The film portrays Seeger as a courageous man who stood up for his values and convictions, and did not give in to corporate or political demands, even while being blacklisted and censored. A lifelong activist, Pete’s mission to clean up the Hudson River was perhaps his ultimate svadeshi, using song and protest to educate and advocate for change in his local community. Ultimately, Pete’s music “surrounded hate and forced it to surrender,” as the sticker on his banjo said. He was a strong advocate of civic participation, and said, “Participation is going to save the human race.” This film provides an inspiring example of music as a form of activism, and how the dedication of one human being can make meaningful ripples of positive change across the world.
image@Stephanie Van Hook
Theatre of the Oppressed http://www.theatreoftheoppressed.org/ Theatre of the Oppressed, founded by activist and director Augusto Boal, is a movement inspired by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed that uses interactive theatre as a tool for education, activism, and transformation. Boal believed that traditional theater was oppressive, as the spectators were passive participants, and that theatre used in a participatory way has the potential for liberation.
In Theatre of the Oppressed, spectators are turned into “spect-actors” and are invited and encouraged to actively participate in the theatrical event. The goal of Theatre of the Oppressed is the transformation of the actors, spect-actors, and ultimately, society, through dialogue and rediscovering our shared humanity.
Theatre of the Oppressed can take on many different forms. Forum Theatre is perhaps the most common method, in which performers act out a short scene of oppression in which the protagonist does not know how to act or respond. After the scene is acted out, the spect-actors are invited to take turns on the stage, assuming the role of one of the performers, exploring strategies and solutions to end the oppression. Theatre of the Oppressed can also be used to provide an opportunity and a “stage” for the spect-actors to act out the challenges and limitations that they encounter in their daily lives in their communities, and work towards finding solutions.
For some examples on how forum theatre has been used by high school students to address issues like bullying, visit: http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-35-spring-2009/feature/flipping-script-bias-and-bullies For a lesson plan on Theatre of the Oppressed, visit: http://www.tolerance.org/toolkit/circle-sculpture Do you have additional favorite resources for activism and the arts?
Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them to our list!
Stephanie Knox Cubbon is the director of education at the Metta Center.
Box : 98, Petaluma, California 94953 email@example.com www.mettacenter.org +1.707.774.6299
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Bijoyeta Das Director of Communications