Cups of nun chai — 16 & 17: Kashmir’s scars are old

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.

Eliza was surprised at the pink colour of the tea, and its saltiness shocked Pete’s taste buds. “My brother visited Kashmir in ’88 or ’89. I think he stayed on the lake.” Pete recalled his brother’s fondness, “He fell in love with the place. Stayed there for ages. The landscape and the people, their warmth – he loved it.” Pete made me feel that his brother probably experienced the last moments of a peaceful Kashmir. A Kashmir without the scars it carries today. A Kashmir my generation never really had the chance to know, because everything changed in 1990 – or so the dominant narrative goes.
As my friend Arif reminded me, the chains existed well before the 1990s, it is just that at that point, when the captives started to move in larger numbers, they start to feel the weight of their chains like never before. Kashmir’s experience of occupation, of political strangulation, and imprisonment, torture and death has existed for decades, some would even say centuries. Maqbool Bhat, co-founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, was executed in 1984. JKLF activists were hounded and jailed all through the 1980s. Al-Fata members were subject to “stick and carrot” state policies in the late 1960s and early 1970s to break their will and turn them against one another and their own people. Plebiscite Front activists were jailed, tortured and killed in the second half of 1950s and the 1960s, and before that members of the original National Conference were jailed and tortured by the hundreds in the early 1950s. Kashmir’s scars are old. What changed in 1990 was the amount of people who were politically loud and bold, and the state’s response to this activity was indiscriminate and brutal.
“All this fighting in Kashmir, the reason we’re drinking this tea, is it something to do with India and Pakistan?” I explained to Pete and his wife Eliza that at the heart of the issue lay Kashmir’s right to self-determination. The problem is that both India and Pakistan have vested interests in the outcome of a plebiscite and neither party is willing to let go of Kashmir. As a result things have become tragically complicated, and more than 60 years later Kashmir is still waiting for the right to decide how they want to be governed and by whom.
Within Indian Occupied Kashmir more than 70,000 people have lost their lives in the last two decades. The physical, psychological and political occupation of the region by India is vast and overwhelming. It is important, and also inspiring, to think about the strength of a Kashmiri society that after collectively loosing so much life, decides to drop the gun and try out different tactics in their struggle for azadi. For the last couple of years those tactics have included protests, slogans and stones. But the weapons of the state have met these tools of the street and the mind with more violence; in the summer of 2010 the government’s forces killed more than 100 civilians. Firing on unarmed protestors has been common before and after 2010. People say the trigger-happy policy of the Indian state will lead to calls for a renewed armed struggle in Kashmir.
“Why isn’t this in the media? Why don’t we know about this?” Eliza was stunned, “They think they know what we want to hear. They feed us Prince William’s marriage endlessly, but they don’t tell us squat about Kashmir!”

—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.