This participatory memorial, by artist Alana Hunt, emerged in response to Kashmir’s Summer of 2010. In the face of the violence, the growing number of dead and the lack of serious media coverage, Hunt evolved ways to speak, to connect and to write in a form that would reach places where the news headlines do not. By July 2012 she had invited 118 people to share a cup of nun chai with her as a simple act that acknowledged this loss of life. Like an ever-growing memory the endeavour unfolded over two years of tea and conversation – across Australia, Europe, parts of South Asia and Kashmir – into a gentle yet challenging refusal to allow that loss of life to simply pass.
Since June 11, these memorialising words and images have appeared here in Kashmir Reader serialised every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
I described a video to Dave and Helen that had recently circulated online. It was of a funeral procession on the streets of Srinagar. Police tried to disperse the mourners with guns and batons. The father of the young man whose corpse lay on the stretcher shielded his son’s dead body with his own. In his late fifties this father stretched his arms over his child’s corpse while soldiers and policeman tried to pull and beat him away from his dead son with batons.
Dave tried to confirm, “So while people are mourning, they are also being killed?” The escalation was cyclical. More killing more mourning, more mourning more resentment, more resentment more protest, more protest more killing; more killing more mourning more resentment more protest more killing. As people gathered to mourn the dead or to protest against death, to shout slogans of freedom or to throw stones India responded with bullets, beating and mass arrests.
We spoke about Partition and all that followed. The dominant historical narrative tells of how India had come to help defend Kashmir from Pakistani tribal invaders who had crossed the border. A lesser recognised part of this history, is the massacre of Muslims in Jammu by Hari Singh’s henchmen and Hindu militia. It is said that hundreds of thousands of people died, and that the Pakistani tribals had crossed the border in their defence. Then Hari Singh called on help from India, who then promised to hold a referendum on Kashmir’s right to self-determination once peace was restored. But over time India’s assistance transformed into an occupation. Opportunities for a referendum were blocked. Democratic elections rigged, political dissidents imprisoned and since the rise of armed militancy in the 1990s Kashmir has become the most densely militarised place in the world. Dave couldn’t believe the statistics of security forces to civilians; almost one for every five or six people.
“Why do they want Kashmir so much?” Helen asked.
Dave mumbled, “It clearly isn’t oil.”
I wondered if Dave was referring to the lack of US intervention or even interest in the issue. We spoke of Kashmir’s strategic location, of its natural resources and the hydroelectric power it generates for the rest of North India. We spoke about national egos and the Pakistan versus India rhetoric. And we spoke about Gandhi’s haunting remark; as Kashmir was the only Muslim majority state in a Hindu majority country, the fate of Kashmir would be the true test of India’s secularism.
“I It reminds me of that phrase,” Helen recalled, “Power builds greed and greed builds corruption.”
Dave shook his head. “None of this had been in our media. Maybe there was a small column on the inner pages of The Australian or a 30 second time slot on SBS. But what’s that? India is sanctioned by the West because they are playing the ‘game’.” Prior to becoming President of the United States, Obama said that Kashmir was high on his list of priorities. When he visited India earlier this month, Kashmiris waited with baited breath, but Obama was silent on the issue. Instead, in 2010, the US and India sealed what has been reported as the sixth biggest arms deal in US history.
—Alana Hunt makes art, writes and occasionally curates. Her work is informed, in quiet yet consistent ways, by the dual (post)colonial worlds of South Asia and the remote East Kimberley region of Western Australia.