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, 2016 these memorialising words and images have appeared serialised here in Kashmir Reader thrice every week, except between Oct 3 and Dec 28 when the Administration barred its publication. The series resumes and will appear on this page every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Majid and I met with Showkat at his home on a hot afternoon during Ramadan in Srinagar. “There is nothing light hearted about what you are doing. It makes complete sense, in the same way that our fatheha-chai does.” Showkat was welcoming. He went on to explain to me that fatheha-chai is a Kashmiri tradition that takes place at the end of a period of mourning. In Kashmir, when a person dies, it is the neighbours’ responsibility to feed the mourning family for three days. In reciprocity, on the fourth day, the mourning family serve the neighbours nun chai as a way to mark the end of their mourning. “This is fatheha-chai. But as Kashmiri culture has become more Islamicised this tradition has started to wane.”
Showkat had taught international law and human rights at the University of Kashmir for many years and Majid was a young journalist from Srinagar. Both agreed that it was the strength of familial bonds in Kashmir that enabled the movement’s continuing resilience. “If it were not for our ability to share and to take care of each other, how else would a society survive what Kashmir has?” Showkat reasoned.
Showkat handed me a document in Urdu. “I’m sorry, I know you can’t read it. But its important non-English speaking people in Kashmir are able to access this kind of information. This is a document my student has been preparing for quite sometime. It is a list of everyone who died here in 2010. And how they died.” He handed me another book in English, “You can read this one, it is also about the summer of 2010. But keep in mind, it was produced by the Indian establishment, and it needs to be read in light of that.” As we spoke he pulled more and more books from the shelf, including Facets of a Resurgent Kashmir—a collection of his own writing that had been published in local newspapers between 1999 and 2008.
Some years ago a high official from the Home Ministry phoned the editor of a leading newspaper in Kashmir and gave them a list of names they did not want to see in print any more. “My name was on that list. They told me it was no longer about what I wrote, but the mere presence of my name that was the problem.” Showkat pulled more papers from his bookshelf. Majid and I looked over three photocopied documents from the State Government of Jammu and Kashmir. In 2010 these documents led to the complete shutdown of local television networks. Ironically, these documents accuse local news networks of broadcasting content that has “the potential of creating a breach of peace and tranquility”, while on the streets the armed forces shot at, beat and killed unarmed and stone throwing protestors, civilians in mourning, and civilians simply passing by. Two years later local television has still not returned to air in Kashmir, and Showkat said he has a difficult time getting his writing published. Though, every absence has its own kind of presence.
I asked Majid and Showkat when freedom would come. “It’s a geopolitical issue. It was the weakening of the British Empire after WWII, which led to their withdrawal from South Asia. Kashmir needs something similar to happen—something that either weakens India or brings about international intervention.” Showkat said.
“I’m always waiting for the day when Kashmir’s freedom appears on the cover of our newspapers.” Majid said, “I was in Shopian not long ago. Everyone was speaking about this 12 year old boy who was the bravest stone thrower around. He had lost three of his family in the conflict, and was always seen at the head of a protest march. People started calling him Jazbe, which literally translates into ‘sentiment’ in English. I asked one man when he thought freedom would come and he told me: when Jazbe (sentiment) grows up.”
“I was once part of this panel discussion with an official from the Indian Army, and I said: As of yet, there have been no weapons invented that are capable of killing peoples sentiment.” Showkat concluded, “That is still our most enduring weapon.”