Growing up in Kashmir, there was one incident that moved Ahmer Javed deeply. He did not remember exactly when it happened—he recalled that he was really young and his older brother was in high school. There was a curfew at the time. During the permitted time period, his brother went out to buy milk. There were two military bunkers—now abandoned—near where they lived. His brother was stopped by members of the armed forces and asked where he was going. He told them he wanted to get milk, but they started questioning him further. “Tu hi chillata hai na, ‘azadi, azadi’”—You’re the one who keeps yelling “freedom, freedom,” right. He told the soldiers that they were mistaken—“I’ve never been out, I’m not about that life,” Javed said his brother told them. But the security personnel started beating him up. Javed’s family tried to intervene and a cousin of theirs stood in front of his brother, but he was attacked as well. Eventually, the family managed to stop the assault.
Javed was at home in the bathroom when his family got to know what was happening. “I came out, and I heard my mother cry,” he told me. “She was in the lobby; she sat down and she was crying … she was like, ‘They’re going to kill him.’ My legs were quivering. I went back to the washroom and I locked myself in. I couldn’t see that.” He only stepped out of the bathroom once he learnt that his brother was safe. He did not blame the armed forces in the area. “It’s just the kind of conditions they’ve been put in,” he said. “They don’t want that life, they’re just following orders. I know who’s controlling them.” Yet, the incident has stayed with him.
In early July this year, Javed, now a 24-year-old rapper, released his debut album, Little Kid, Big Dreams, in collaboration with Sajeel Kapoor, a Delhi-based producer who goes by the moniker Sez On The Beat, via the independent hip-hop label Azadi Records. The album is an eight-song hip-hop record about Javed’s experiences growing up in Srinagar and navigating the volatile political past and present of the region. We met, incidentally, on 5 August, just a few hours after the central government announced that it had scrapped the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.