The absence of street battles in the Valley and downtown Srinagar are no indicators of peace. A war of words is being waged across the walls and shutters of the city, with brushes, spray cans and paint used as ammunition.
While graffiti is not a new form of protest, state forces in Kashmir have begun to respond with counter graffiti of their own. In a message sprayed on a shop's shutter some time ago, the separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front directed people to boycott the state's elections. Soon after, the message appeared to have been manipulated.
Several of the walls in Srinagar bear mysterious shapes and hieroglyphs – protest graffiti disfigured until it becomes unintelligible to its intended audience. In some cases, a few altered letters manipulate word and intent: the ubiquitous slogan "Go India Go Back", in its frequently altered version, becomes "Good India Good".
In more sophisticated attempts, political statements painted on walls are transformed to make counter political statements.
For instance, a shutter painted with the line "we want freedom" near Srinagar’s Nowhatta, where youth clashes with security forces are almost a weekly affair, has now become "we want freedom from pelters".
Close to the historic Jamia Masjid, where protesters spray-painted "India your game is over", the word "over" has been altered to read "India your game is good".
Further down the road, a message once describing the area as "Burhan’s Down Town" has now become "Burhan’s down down", a slogan denouncing the 21-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander who was killed by Indian security forces in an encounter.
On the shutter next to it, the words ISIS and AK-47 have been blotted out clumsily.
Jawahar Nagar, one of Srinagar’s calmer neighbourhoods which is home to lawmakers and state officials, once screamed the word "collaborator" in big, black font on the boundary walls of a government bungalow.
Now it looks, quite literally, like Greek to a casual passer-by.
In Kupwara town, some 90 kilometres from Srinagar, the graffiti on shutters near Old Chowk was whitewashed, before a fresh set of messages began to appear on it."I love Modi," one said.
On shutters that said "I Love India" and "India is Great", India was painted over and replaced with Pakistan, then turned back to India once again.
The protest calendars issued by separatist leaders had directed the youth to paint slogans on roads and walls. Setting an example, perhaps, separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani himself had been photographed painting a slogan in Kashmir. Regardless of when the battle of arms shall end, the battle of words in the Valley continues unabated.
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