Today is Day 118. These are the number of days since the revocation of Article 370, which accorded special status to Kashmir in the Constitution. This is the number that gets highlighted in a poster, which comes in stark shades of mostly white and red and black.
In one of the posters, there is an apple that is almost buried in a field of snow; then there is one which depicts a snow sculpture in the shape of Jammu & Kashmir with pale blood on it. And yet another shows a black-coloured Kashmir when the rest of the country is shown to be on the internet grid. On Diwali, in a stark blood-coloured background, there is a black Jammu and Kashmir with a lamp-lit at the centre. There is one for SAR Geelani too, one for solidarity with the Tamil Eelam and another for solidarity with JNU students who are protesting the fee hike in the university.
All of these come accompanied with hashtags like ‘Kashmir caged’, ‘end occupation’ and ‘stand with Kashmir’.
The person behind these immensely popular posters is 27-year-old Musthujab Makkolath, a native of Kerala. Though he is the one who creates these posters, helping him with the text and ideas is the group Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). Musthujab and a group of around 25 volunteers have been doing so from Day 20 of the lockdown.
“When the revocation of Article 370 happened, we were not really sure what to do and how to express solidarity. Soon after that IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan resigned from service and he had mentioned that if he were an editor, he would simply put the number of days Kashmir has been under a communications lockdown on the front pages. That is from where the idea sprung. Musthujab, who is one of the PIPFPD volunteers, stepped forward to create these posters. The first poster is just the number of the days since August 5 on a black background,” explained Vijayan MJ, national general secretary of PIPFPD-India chapter.
The overwhelming use of white, black and a stark red was all Musthujab’s choice. Some of the images on these posters have been taken from other sources and in such instances, credits have been given. Otherwise, it is all the imagination of this Calicut-based Farook College, Malayalam literature graduate, who is now a designer and a digital art curator. And each poster is accompanied by a text which is usually a poem and explanation of the day’s imagery.
“I felt it's important to speak about Kashmir and for Kashmir. I have volunteered with different movements and designed lots of stuff. Not only Kashmir, all the struggles and resistance are important to me. Art is a very important medium to express solidarity and dissent. In the current situation it is very important to stand with the people who are resisting against unethical, undemocratic and anti-people regimes. PIPFPD has stood for these values consistently and so I volunteered to do it,” says Musthujab, who completed his post-graduation in mass communication from SIAS Media School, which is also based in Calicut.
“I can't even think about one day without the use of the mobile. Now, the state is blocking telephone and internet of Kashmiri people for months in the name of national security and people’s interest. Which people are they talking about? The people are being oppressed by different tools of state. Lots of innocent people have been killed and maimed, blinded etc. For what? The question is always haunting me. Human rights violation has unfortunately become a norm in Kashmir. As a human being and as an artist, I can't remain silent. That’s my conviction,” maintains Musthujab.
Musthujab’s views aligns with that of PIPFPD and its general secretary adds that it is for people to decide their fate. “We don’t want to say anything what a Kashmiri would not say. We are also speaking of solidarity across protests, which is why we have put out posters on the JNU protest, Birsa Munda Day and Constitution Day.”
“We have also put out posters for the Tamizhs of Eezham as we feel there is a commonality between the Tamizhs of Sri Lanka dreaming liberation vis-à-vis the majority Kashmiri people demanding Azadi. While their historical and cultural context is different, these aspirations rise from similar kind of oppression,” adds Vijayan.
Initially, the designer began to create these artworks on his mobile phone as he would only put the date and the hashtag. But, when the lockdown seeming to be unending, the design also began to change. “We started to use images, photos and art works. It does not take long time to make posters on mobile, but to do it every day is an effort. Sometimes it takes lots of time to work with feedback from the volunteer team of counting days (PIPFPD). But it has been an energising and educating experience. The collective behind the campaign has gotten stronger and diverse by the day. It’s a great youth team now,” says Musthujab, who came to Delhi three years ago to volunteer with an NGO, which was inspiring social change. Now, Delhi is his home.
He even got married in between these 118 days. “On Day 62 and Day 63 (October 5 and 6), it was my wedding reception. Even in between those busy days, I was designing these posters. The conceptual clarity to assimilate the artwork with the text has been a great learning curve for someone like me who is more of an artist than an activist,” says Musthujab. The group plans to keep the campaign on, till the lockdown is lifted from Jammu and Kashmir.
These posters have been printed and showcased by many those who have been protesting the Kashmir lockdown in the Capital and in other states. Now, they have been made into postcards, which can be bought.