The Spaces and Modes of Resistance Poetry

What worry is there if pen and slate have been

snatched from me? I have dipped my fingers

in the blood of my broken heart

What if my lips have been sealed? Every

ring in my chain has a fiery tongue ready

to rebel.

-Faiz Ahmed Faiz

LIKE EVERY ART, poetry and resistance poetry in specific is deeply interlinked to the question of space and mode of production. Resistance poetry by its very nature demands the existence of a certain geography which is subjugated, and also presumes that a struggle must exist to control the nature and flow of these narratives. To cite an example, the condition for resistance poetry to exist in Kashmir, is that not only is Kashmir one of the most militarized regions in the world, but that there is a constant contest between the state and the people over how to categorize, and label the events say the August 5 abrogation of Article 370. While the state will tout it as a great equalizer that brings ‘democracy’ in its truest sense to the region, the narrative from Kashmir is that of betrayal, hurt and rage. In the context of this space exists resistance poetry and the conditions that necessitate its production. But in turn, poetry as all art does create new alternate spaces by creating new possibilities of meaning, and perceiving the world. This applies equally well to resistance poetry which must think of new linkages and new rites of fusion between the land and people inhabiting it. What then are these new linkages that resist, how do they resist, and what do they resist?

This is a challenging question, and one of the most pertinent ones that demand an answer. But like with every such question it has no easy answers obviously, nor is it possible to fully outline the answer here. However, broadly, I would think the answer to this question is linked to the production of space by the state, which is rigid and hierarchal. The state functions by marking binaries of acceptability/non-acceptability, accessible/inaccessible, civilian/terrorist, and marks spaces out clearly – camp, road, police station, interrogation center, check point, bunker, road. These spaces are opaque since the general population is not permitted/informed about these spaces as they are imposed on the public without their consent.

Were one to pass by the infamous cargo police station, one can see written in bold letters on the wall: ‘Military Area. Trespassers will be persecuted’. Similarly bunkers and army camps often demarcate spaces by barricades, concertina wires and walls to clearly indicate their disjunction from the landscape, and thus create an aura of intimidation. For what is hidden and inaccessible, man fears most. To quote Faraz: Till you are inaccessible, let us worship you/We call him God that we can’t touch or prove. The bunker similarly lies on the concept of a panopticon – a technology where the soldier inside can observe every activity outside, but those outside cannot figure out which way the soldier is looking. Only the nozzle of the rifle butts out leaving a perpetual reminder of the power of the soldier inside.

The wayfarers are therefore perpetually wary of the gaze of the bunker, and must per force notice it even as they would like not to be reminded of its existence. The bunker, thereof, becomes a space of intimidation, and these routines and spaces of intimidation are perpetuated by issuing papers to regulate these spaces – laws are published on paper, the state issues orders on paper, detention and release orders are paper as are FIRs, and heabus-corpus petitions and charge-sheets are paper.

Resistance poetry counters this hierarchization of papers by first creating its own papers: papers that reflect local realities, papers that counter and contest official realities. Second, in its own papers it refuses these hierarchies by ascribing geographies with meanings and memories such that they act as mnemonic markers of a geography that is accessible only to the collective, and inaccessible to the state that shares no experience/memory of suffering. Moreover, since poetry conflates geographies and times, the contradictions and contests in the text become an articulation of not the fixed space of a nation state, but a vehicle of potentialities – a disruptive and transformative space of contrapuntal trajectories where divergent and distant spaces blend by aid of an imagination. This imagination exists in constant negotiation and tension between routes and roots of subjugation and resistance.

The narrations of collective trauma, thereof, can be employed to generate a greater mutuality and inclusiveness. Such poetry speaks to the moment of their creation, and preserves it as a living testimony of the present and an inalienable component of the future, rather than merely an inert archiving of facts. From these shared histories, can come the language from which one can image different, humane and equitable futures where we can think beyond the nation state. This is a third space of fluidness that runs counter to the specific and popular imaginations of nationalist movements, and responses of the state to them.

So much for the question of space, now for the question of modes of production. Now that these texts are produced, how are they disseminated? That this question is of equal importance as censorship of poetry is a practice that has been bequeathed to the modern nation state from the ancient world itself. Throughout history, we have precedent from Faiz to Darwish to Hikmet to Lorca of poetry and writing being censored, erased and imprisoned. Resistance Poetry, therefore, has to seek alternate means to articulate itself other than the means normally available to poetry.

In other words, the question is which are the spaces and modes of production that resistance poetry seek to subvert the factity of benevolence of oppressor that state narratives seeks to promote? One of the ways is dismantling the hierarchy of cultural capital that is deeply ingrained into the world of publishing. An inferior work by a distinguished professor, for example, is more likely to find a publisher than a quality work by a student. Adding to this complexity is the state’s active intervention in gatekeeping narratives, and using its own repressive apparatus or apparatus sponsored by it to repress narratives not favourable to it. Moreover, in the neo-liberal world, profitability is directly related to the popularity and acceptability of a world view in the reading population. In other words, resistance literature and poetry face a threefold challenge: one to find a medium or space where it can be housed, second overcome the adverse subjugating state, third transcend and convert the reading public inherently biased towards the subjugated (or else they would not be complicit in the subjugation which is legitimized by their tacit support and silence, if not outright endorsement).

It is evident then the resisting population is burdened by an additional responsibility in their quest to react – to create avenues that can host its poetry and not judge it by the sensibilities prevailing in the cultural world. This is of course not a carte blanche for bad poetry, but simply an acknowledgement that the idiom of resistance poetry will not conform to the aesthetic hegemonies in vogue, simply because they are shaped either by cultures of oppression. I am of course drawing on the distinction offered by the Kenyan writer and academic Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who points to this counter-discursive potential in an article entitled ―Literature in Schools‖ by suggesting: “literature contains two opposing aesthetics –on one side the aesthetic of oppression and exploitation and of acquiescence with imperials, on the other side the aesthetic of human struggle for total liberation.” Here the full impact of the transformative potential of social media and small presses that it has granted visibility to, is fully realized.

Social media, small presses and online journals like Kashmir Lit, Inverse Journal, Wande Magazine, Mountain Ink, and others on both a national and international level have allowed an expression of Kashmiri subjectivities on a scale never witnessed before. Moreover, access to these journals has been possible only due to the existence of social media where the author is able to network and become aware of call for submissions. It is no surprise that with the advent of social media post 2009, there has been an explosion of imaginaries and narratives concerning Kashmir, and most of it has been made possible by the freedom that social media has offered by means of posts, blogs, pictures and photos, which can not only easily be accessed but redistributed, stored and replicated, thereby attaining the same hydra headed nature that subjugation manifests. More importantly, all this is done at minimum expense to the poet or author.

While poetry has an inherent plasticity permitted to it by metaphor, the easy and unmediated access to the reader offered by social media is an additional boon. The phenomenon of resistance poetry in Kashmir, therefore, relies mostly on social media and the opportunities offered by it to resist the hierarchies of ‘high brow’ culture. This virtual space is the space of transformation and potentialities, where the dystopia of Kashmir is in full view as is its transformative potential for it exhibits two of the fundamental traits of human existence: to be resilient in suffering, and the great power of suffering to generate empathy. I began this essay by quoting Faiz, and I will end it by quoting him to illustrate this maxim:

The mornings of the unfortunate,

and broken-hearted don’t dawn on the horizon.

The dazzling horizon of morning lies right here, where we stand.

The tree of sorrow has bloomed

here and turned to blossom of the sky.

Axes of murderous sorrows have turned here

into great parades of fiery wreaths woven

from light.

The sorrow gifted by this night has turned into surest belief

in morning. The belief that is more generous

than sorrow.

The morning which is more supreme

than the night.


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Huzaifa Pandit

Huzaifa Pandit is the author of the recently published ‘Green is the Colour of Memory’, which won the first edition of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest 2017. He holds a PhD on poetry of resistance from the University of Kashmir.

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