Mohmmad Yousuf and his family members sit together in a spacious room of his modest house located in a narrow alley of Srinagar’s downtown area. The windows are tightly shut and the curtains, detailed with Kashmiri embroidery, down. Gradually as the effect of pepper gas used by CRPF personnel to quell protesters wears off, the family stops coughing.
While Yousuf turns his television on and begins to watch a panel discussion moderated by a bellicose news anchor on Kashmir, his 10-year-old son Yakut starts drawing a picture with black and red crayons on a plain paper. After a few minutes, Yakut comes up with a picture of a blindfolded girl with a pockmarked face. “This is a picture of a girl with pellets all over her face and eyes,” explains the fourth grader.
Conflict is a dominant theme in Kashmir. It affects everyone, every walk of life. And even children are not spared. More and more of them are thus graphically depicting the violence they are growing up amidst. The trend has become more common and less conspicuous since the last summer’s unrest in which more than 100 people lost their lives and dozens were left maimed and blind including children as young as eight years old.
“Children in conflict-ridden societies are always vulnerable to psychological disorders as they can not communicate the way adults do. So what they see or experience finds an expression in art,” says a Valley-based psychiatrist.
School teachers and parents concede that during various art festivals and other such competitions, a reflection of the conflict is often found in the works of young children.
“During the non-thematic art competitions, we always find that a significant number of students love to paint and draw pictures involving conflict and violence,” said the principal of a reputed private high school in Srinagar.
The drawing book of a second standard student Daniya Muzzafar carries a string of pictures depicting de-peopled alleys, armoured vehicles, children with bruised cheeks and so on. In one of her pastel works, titled ‘My School’, she has drawn a school building with its front gate locked.
Similarly, in a series of drawings, 14-year-old Mir Fiaq of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district has chronicled last year’s arson attacks on educational institutions across the Valley.
“There is no denying the fact that armed conflicts have a deep psychological effect on children. Young ones always have a tendency to imitate and learn from their surroundings and it is for these reasons, we see children here describing conflict in their creative pursuits,” said Umair Gull who teaches Peace and Conflict studies at a university in Kashmir.
Conflict has become a leading theme not only in what the children of Valley paint but also in what they write. The new generation of children here writes mostly in English and their writings –both in the form of prose and poetry-- predominantly reflect the resistance, political upheavals, pain and helplessness of the society they live in.
Seventeen-year-old Mansha, a young bard and an ardent admirer of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, is one of such new generation writers. She says that her compositions are part of her resistance against state oppression and a response to dyed-in-wool nationalist new anchors who bend the truth to gain concessions from the current dispensation in New Delhi.
In one of her poems, Mansha succinctly puts her thoughts as:
I saw through my window
No one was there
Only were those
Who had courage to fight
With a small stone and a firm hope
Against the guns and the cannons.
I saw through my window
Every one was silent
Only cried those
Who lost their dear ones
To the tyrant ’s bullets and pellets.