Cups of nun chai — 15: Colonisation that wears a mask

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.

“Is Kashmir like a city in India or more like a state?” asked Jordan, a 16 year old who grew up surfing on the north coast of NSW. Kashmir is a contested, unresolved region with three countries – India, Pakistan and China – all trying to stake a claim. There was a globe in the room and we looked over it to see how Kashmir had been depicted. Manufactured in Denmark in 1997, an especially violent period in Kashmir, the globe illustrated Kashmir as a place with a name but without borders. The dotted lines that surrounded other countries were absent and Kashmir emerged as an open area sitting between India, Pakistan and China.
After Jordan learnt of the death of 17 year old Tufail Ashraf Mattoo, he paused for a moment with the nun chai resting at his mouth. Tufail was only one year older than he was. Jordan asked, “If the UN was so good, why didn’t they step in and do something to help Kashmir?” Kashmiris themselves have asked this question tirelessly. Kashmir remains one of the oldest disputes on the Security Council’s agenda but, much to the dismay of many Kashmiris, India continues to insist it is an ‘internal’ matter that needs to be resolved between India and Pakistan. Recently in Kashmir a rumour spread that the UN had removed Kashmir from its list of unresolved conflicts. People were up in arms, but it was soon dismissed as false.
Just a week earlier Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest in Burma. Her story flooded the news headlines that Jordan saw. “Kashmir needs to be in the media. It needs the kind of attention Burma has. Is it the same kind of situation?” A military junta that prohibits democracy runs Burma. Kashmir is a military occupation, whereby different countries are claiming the place as their own. Jordan connected the situation in Kashmir to the colonisation of Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. But while these were European forms of colonisation that took root in centuries past, today things were different. “Now it is kind of like an intelligent colonialism,” he went on to explain with a beautiful 16 year old’s clarity, “This feels like a kind of colonisation that wears a mask.”
(In the years since her release Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent on the genocide of Rohingya Muslims. Will a future Kashmiri leader also choose silence if a minority is in danger once Kashmir has exercised its right to self-determination?)
When I thought back to the globe Jordan and I had begun with I wondered whether it would be better to see Kashmir surrounded by dotted lines like the other countries, or to see the whole world, like Kashmir, as a place without dotted lines.

—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.