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By: Varun Suthra/TNS
Her eyes were wet but heart filled with joy at the sight of a group of girls from her community singing a folk song in the recently held state-level Gojri Folk Music Festival at Gujjar Centre for Cultural Heritage here.
Begum Jaan, an eminent singer from a tribal community, Gujjars, has sacrificed a lot to break the barrier to empower Gujjar women. She even lost her son and brother at the hands of militants, who wanted her to stop singing.
She fought years of discrimination against her and the language to achieve recognition for her rich cultural heritage through Gojri folk songs and music.
In an exclusive chat with The Tribune, Begum Jaan, flanked by her daughter, recounts her struggle.
“Singing is in my blood. I may survive without food, water or air, but I will die if I can’t sing.”
“Taking our cattle herd for grazing in meadows is something that separates us from the rest of the people. I loved my voice for the first time when it echoed from the mountains of my native village, Arigam in Bandipora district of Kashmir, when I, as an adolescent girl, murmured a few lines of a folk song, which my mother used to sing,” she said.
“A voice inside me made me believe that I was special and then I vowed to live my dream, without thinking about the consequences,” she added.
“Not much aware of the proceedings, I started doing rounds of the centres of music and art in Srinagar. Radio Station Kashmir was the only destination for strugglers like me in those days. It took me nine years to get a break. Eminent Santoor player, who was in charge of Radio Kashmir, after realising the passion and dedication of a tribal woman for art, arranged special auditions for me, which I cleared in one go.”
“Unfortunately, the journey was not so trouble-free for me, a woman, that too, from a tribal community. It was like giving an open invitation to endless troubles. The first hurdle that I faced was my family’s disagreement, as it shattered my marriage. It was not my husband’s fault alone, as the highly orthodox community could not digest a woman challenging the tradition,” she opined.
“Inception of militancy added to my woe. I received threats from countless militant outfits as singing was considered anti-religious, according to them. They killed my brother and an 18-year-old son to punish me for my blasphemous act i.e. singing.
But against all odds, I lived my dream. I always felt choked while living in the village but never gave up. As I started gaining fame, the rest of the community also changed its approach toward me. Those who opposed me, asked for the ways to put their daughters into folk singing. I ran from pillar to post for my community girls. I had always contemplated smoothening the way for my successors. I feel victorious when Gujjar girls sing on the stage and receive applause from the audience.” — with Tauqeer Ahmed.