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.
It was the 22nd of January. On this day twenty-two years ago an more than 50 unarmed protesters had been killed by Indian troops at the Gawkadal Bridge in Srinagar. This day has often been described as ‘the gateway to Kashmir’s road of massacres’ and marked the first day of Jagmohan’s second term as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
“Can we begin by looking at a map of Kashmir?” asked Hayley, “I need to locate where Kashmir is.” We found a map online from the University of Texas whose file had been named ‘Kashmir_disputed_2003’. Google simultaneously gave us a number of ‘related searches’ that read like an awkwardly summarised geography of the region; Kashmir map India. Kashmir map political. Kashmir region map. Azad Kashmir map. Pakistan map.
We looked over the image of ‘Kashmir_disputed_2003’ and I tried to explain to Hayley the long, complicated story of how Kashmir came to be synonymous with the word ‘disputed’. But there was so very much to tell. My mind seemed to move faster than I was able to speak and I worried I was relaying the story in a way that sounded scattered and incomplete. I slowed down and tried to pull my words together.
On the 6th of September 2010 four people had died bringing the growing number of dead that year to 69: Feroz Ahmed Malik, Mudasir Ahmed Mir, Noorudin Tantary, and Muhammad Ramzan Mir. It was at this time, as I sat reading the latest news, Facebook posts, and emails in a cold studio in Sydney that Cups of nun chai came into being. Today, one and a half years later, I sat with Hayley as she held the 69th cup of nun chai in her hands.
We looked online at images of the sang-baz in Kashmir throwing stones at the Indian security forces. And we looked at images of the Indian ‘in-security forces’ (as my Kashmiri friend prefers to call them), firing at the sang-baz. So many moments had been frozen in time, capturing the intensity of people’s physical and emotional anguish and holding it, still, for us to see. My mind wandered—what was the story that led in and out of each of these pictures? What happened before and what came after?
We came across an image of a middle-aged Kashmiri woman scolding a man in uniform. Her face was only inches from his. The energy that she carried—it was visible in her face, in her raised hand and in the strength of her body—was powerful and defiant in a way that only a woman who has been pushed far beyond her limits can be. In this moment, now frozen in time, as she stood there scolding that man in uniform, she seemed to be searching for a skerrick of humanity in the soldier’s empty face.
As Hayley and I sat looking at the image of this woman whose face was only inches from that man in uniform I began to think that perhaps, like this woman, each stone that is thrown becomes some kind of attempt to fracture the cold uniformed inhumanity that confounds life in Kashmir. Stones are no match for bullets or tear gas—but their symbolic value is potent.