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.
Nasir held the nun chai in his hands and spoke with earnestness, “The symbolism of these cups of nun chai is strong.” I met Nasir and Burhan under the Chinar trees at Kashmir University. I had just described in detail how Cups of nun chai began—how the work was an attempt to move against the normalisation of death in Kashmir, how it was a response to the loss of life in 2010, to the duality of what was at once horribly tangible and at the same time inconceivable, especially for me, someone not from Kashmir.
Burhan had been very quiet while I spoke, listening carefully, “I didn’t realise—I mean, your website doesn’t really convey what you’ve just said.” From that point on our conversation flowed for hours. It felt like an endless exposition detailing how two young men who yearn for azadi (freedom) negotiate their way through life in Kashmir today. 2010 was a year Nasir and Burhan’s generation would never forget.
Nasir and Burhan’s understanding of the political situation that shaped their lives was nuanced; words had consequences in Kashmir, and this made them more precise with language. Kashmir was not ‘administered’ by India, but rather ‘held’ and ‘occupied’. They told me that Ikwhan is an Arabic word originally meaning ‘brother’. However the Indian state have used this word to describe former militants-turned-Indian-loyalists, so locally an ‘Ikwhani’ was a brother to the Indian state and a traitor to Kashmir. Nasir and Burhan were conscious not only of India’s military might, but also of its coercive power. We discussed some of the government strategies they felt were aimed at shaping the way young people think.
In 2010, individuals were detained in Kashmir for engaging on social networking sites in what the state perceived to be ‘anti-national activities’. Nasir and Burhan explained that because this received negative press coverage internationally the state had started to fabricate alternative reasons for detaining people who use the internet to voice political concerns in Kashmir. The mere suggestion that someone had been involved in street violence was enough to get you detained under the much abused and draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). Families whose children were booked under the PSA were often dealt hefty fines and had a black mark levelled against their name. This limited future employment opportunities and placed immense financial pressure on the family at large. It has been reported that thousands of people have been booked under the PSA in recent years. Now, in Kashmir in mid-2012, it feels as though the state is succeeding in making people quiet in very quiet ways.
Like hundreds of other young boys in Kashmir, in October 2011 Wamiq, a 21 year old commerce student, was detained under the PSA for his “involvement in anti-social activities aimed at disturbing the public tranquillity and peace in the city.” A group of anonymous people built a website to generate awareness around Wamiq’s case, which caught the attention of Amnesty International. Examples like this were important to young people like Nasir and Burhan, because they illustrate that there are alternative ways in which voices from Kashmir can be articulated in non-violent ways and heard by large audiences.
“Can we pause for a moment? I want to think about the martyrs of 2010, but also those who disappeared.” Nasir requested, “In some ways this is worse than death, because our families never know. They live with uncertainty and the inability to lay their loved one’s soul to rest.” We sat quietly for a moment together.
For Nasir and Burhan these cups of nun chai were therapeutic. They said it created space to reflect on what surrounded them everyday. In their minds revolution was real. Just as I was wondering when freedom would arrive they told me that India had already lost, because Kashmir would never forget. For Nasir and Burhan the resilience of azadi was fuelled by memory; memories that only became more definite, clear and certain with the events of 2010.
There was much said, and due to the fact that words had consequences in Kashmir, much best left unwritten.