Cups of nun chai-81: Protest and resistance

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 Anzac Day when I met Paul outside my grandparent’s home at the War Veterans Retirement Village north of Sydney. In Australia and New Zealand Anzac Day is marked as a day of remembrance in honour of those who served and died in military operations for these two countries, and as Paul said, “…having nun chai on this day is such a perfect symbol of memorial that only happenstance could have organised it.” Acts of remembering and memorialisation are important though they have the capacity to be swept up and dominated by nationalist and racially driven discourses. A mix of protest, overbearing nationalism and the solemnity of remembrance, has shaped the history of Anzac Day in Australia. I can weep for people but not for a nation.

Paul and I sat on a rock on top of a hill that overlooked the ocean. I had prepared some fresh chapatti and he seemed to enjoy the intensity of the salty tea.

Paul had spent his life between Australia and America, though his formative years had been in the US. “In America, you can tell if someone has been in the military because they put salt in their coffee.” He explained, “It was a habit people developed in service when they couldn’t get things like sugar and cream.” I was surprised. I had always imagined that the US army, out of all armies, would have an endless supply of sugar and cream.

“Patriotism is what drove my grandparents’ generation to join the army. But today,” Paul continued, “people enlist to access education and a stable pay check. And then they’re thrust into these situations where they’re running around killing people in the name of a war they can find no justification for. And now a lot of these people have come home, and they’re focusing their lives on government reform. It’s a strange situation the government doesn’t really know how to handle.”

When I told Paul about Tufail’s death and the protests that followed in Kashmir in 2010 he immediately connected the situation to the Occupy movement in the US, which he had been part of in California. “Something similar happened during Occupy. The boy was comatose by police, but eventually survived. Occupy looked like a sudden outburst of protest, but we had a mass of organisation going on behind the scenes, workshops and training right across the country.” The strategies Paul described seemed methodical and systematic. They were the result of formalised training rather than a resistance that takes shape through gradual trial and error. The way he spoke brought to mind a super network of ultra-efficient-activist-educators swarming across the US with workshops in tow. It felt like a kind of politicisation that came from choice rather than necessity; people could walk away.

“It was over almost as quickly as it began,” Paul said “But the process itself was educational. There are now an experienced, highly skilled set of political organisers who are ready to step back into action when the time is right.” With a formal and logical air Paul continued, “There are a few things Kashmir could do in order to get its independence.”  I was a little astounded at Paul’s sense of certainty and asked him to explain further, “Kashmir needs to secure foreign investment. Once money is in question the international community will start to take note.” Paul’s was a hard capitalist reality that, however unsettling, did contain some elements of truth.