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The establishment of All India Progressive Writers’ Association in colonial India encouraged artists to articulate and examine social realities. Literary-cultural productions, particularly popular songs in Hindi films, in independent India continued to remain preoccupied with social conflicts such as religious bigotry and communalism. Sahir Ludhianvi’s “Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye” (trans. “What can one gain, even if one gains this world?,” 1958 ) and “Yeh Kiska Lahu Hai, Kaun Mara” (trans. “Whose Blood Has Spilled? Who Died?,” 1961) are early examples of a lasting tide of pessimism owing to communal violence during the 1947 India-Pakistan partition. Narendra Modi’s victory in the 2014 and 2019 elections seems to have reignited the rhetoric of pessimistic social protest in popular music, with the production of songs such as “Azadi” (trans. “Freedom”) and “Jingostan” (trans. allusion to a jingoistic country) in Gully Boy (2018). However, institutionalised investment in idioms of hopelessness has now diluted the revolutionary scope of pessimism and transformed it into a cultural currency: the dexterous weaponisation of relatability has simply become a means to secure commercial popularity. The formal structure and lyrics of popular songs in occupied Kashmir provide a contrast: Srinagar-based rapper MC Kash’s “I Protest (Remembrance)” (2011) and feminist collective Zanaan Wanaan’s “Kashmir: Bella Ciao” (2020) are shaped by metaphors of hope for radical change, evincing an undying belief in the possibility of freedom from Indian occupation. Both “I Protest (Remembrance)” and “Kashmir: Bella Ciao” combine indictment and memorialisation, only to culminate in a pledge to materialise the vision for Kashmir’s independence. My presentation will trace the legacy and scope of pessimism in popular music in independent India and examine optimism as a survival strategy in popular music in occupied Kashmir to assess varying strategies of postcolonial (and) social protest.



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