MC Kash raps for Kashmir protest victims

Image caption,
When he is not rapping, MC Kash studies business at a college in Srinagar

His name is Roushan Illahi, but he prefers to go by his rapper title, MC Kash.

MC Kash, 20, is a student from Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir, who is hoping to make it big on the music scene.

And he is well on the way to getting there. He posts his raps on the music site ReverbNation, where he has a following of more than 2,000 people.

But it is not so much for his music, as his lyrics, that he is getting noticed.

"The last six months have been very sad for every Kashmiri," MC Kash tells BBC World Service.

He is referring to the wave of violence that has gripped the Kashmir Valley since June, and which has left more than 100 people dead.

Thousands of Kashmiris took to the streets in what were supposed to be peace marches. Some threw stones, and security forces in India's only Muslim-majority state responded with live bullets.

The track that first brought MC Kash to prominence was his title I Protest, which is about these demonstrations. It begins with news clips from the height of the violence, and ends with him listing the names of the people who had died.

One of them, Inayat Khan, was a friend of his.

"I still remember walking up to his funeral among wails and tears. I still remember the scars all over his body. I still remember shouldering his coffin," MC Kash told the BBC.

The lyrics to I Protest are graphic. MC Kash uses the term "murderous regime", when speaking of the authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir and says, "these killings ain't random", before going on to talk about an "endless occupation", and "freedom of speech subjected to strangulation".

Some regard his music as inflammatory, anti-Indian - or both.

MC Kash says it is about telling things as they are: "If somebody has a problem with my lyrics, I think they need to look into the issue of Kashmir. I think it's truth that I'm speaking.

"A lot of politicians want people to believe that nothing is wrong in Kashmir - but that's not the truth."

He insists he is not anti-Indian. He says he may collaborate with Indian artists in the future, and has been offered a slot performing in Mumbai (Bombay).

New generation

During the worst of this year's violence, people were posting videos of the demonstrations direct to YouTube and a crop of citizen-journalism websites, in an attempt to counter, or provide an alternative to, the mainstream version of events.

Analysts say there is a whole generation of young, well-educated and politically-aware Kashmiris, who feel their voices are not represented in traditional forms of media or culture.

MC Kash certainly fits this profile: he is studying business, and hopes to go on to an MBA abroad; his father is a doctor and his mother is a teacher. He has never left Kashmir, but he speaks excellent English and has taken a strategic decision to rap in English.

"English is a universal language. Kashmiris know how they have suffered. So if I went on to rap about it in Kashmiri, that would be useless."

The insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir began in 1989 - the year before MC Kash was born. Young people like him have never known life without curfews, searches, checkpoints and all the trappings of day-to-day life in a conflict zone.

Around 70,000 people have been killed in Kashmir in MC Kash's lifetime.

MC Kash says he was inspired to write another of his tracks, Moment of Truth, after watching a documentary about Gaza.

"Gaza and Kashmir are related. A stone relates us. Humiliation relates us. Occupation relates us. Anger relates us. The human rights violations relate us. Intifada relates us," he tells the BBC.

Studio raided

Rap may seem an unusual choice for a Kashmiri artist, as it is not particularly popular in the region.

Image caption,
MC Kash maintains his lyrics are not designed to provoke, but to inform

But there are parallels here with a traditional Kashmiri style of music called Ladi Shah - a highly lyrical form of story-telling performed with little, or no, instrumental accompaniment. It is based on oral tradition, and can often be political, or satirical.

For the moment, MC Kash's recording has ground to a total halt. A few weeks ago his studio was raided by police who wanted to know if there was a separatist or militant backing him.

MC Kash says he is entirely independent: "Nobody is paying me. Nobody told me to go sing about Kashmir."

His main priority is finding a new studio - something which is proving tricky, he says, as no-one seems to want to take him on after the controversy over I Protest.

He admits the raid shook him - and his parents - up: "They are proud of me. They are very supportive because they know I am doing the right thing.

"At the same time they are scared; they know the consequences. I could end up in jail."

There is a little pause.

"I hope nothing like that happens," he adds.

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