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.
Sabika and Shivani had been at high school in India during the Summer of 2010, and at that time they knew very little of what was happening in Kashmir. On the 29th of June that same year, Iffat, who was from the south of Kashmir, was returning home from Delhi, with her uncle and mother, after completing university registration. As Iffat and her family neared the end of their journey the vehicles were stopped at Khanbal Point. Iffat, her mother and uncle suddenly found themselves on the street, trying to reach home amidst tear gas shelling and stone pelting. They ran and came to an open field where Iffat’s mother suddenly sat down, “She was frozen with fear she refused to move.” Iffat said, “But then we ran, and ran to our home with the sound of gun shots behind us.” A few hours later Iffat watched as the bodies of three young boys were carried down the street. “They were only 19 or 20 years old, and had been martyred just metres from my house.”
Sabika, Shivani and I listened to Iffat’s story and tears welled up in our eyes. Although Sabika and Shivani did not know things like this were happening in 2010, they were well aware now. Over the brief two years that have since passed Sabika and Shivani’s personal interests led them to undertake an internship with the Association for the Parents of Disappeared People (APDP), an organisation fighting an uphill battle in an attempt to seek justice from the state on behalf of Kashmir’s disappeared and their families. Through their work with APDP Sabika and Shivani had encountered a side of Kashmir that most non-Kashmiris do not get to see. It is these experiences that lay at the root of the urgency they both felt to speak of Kashmir to India – to their friends, their families, and their classmates. This is something important. I remember a year ago my grandfather in Australia said things probably wouldn’t change in Kashmir until public opinion in India began to.
As I spoke with these three young women, all brimming with a sense of Kashmir’s urgency, I noticed how the occupation itself shaped our vocabulary. Crackdown. PSA. AFSPA. CRPF. The disappeared. These were not simply words but ways of understanding and of knowing the world around us. There was a time when these words did not have a presence in Kashmir, but now they shape it and they shape us too.
“Someday I want to bring my family to Kashmir,” Shivani said, “But I won’t take them to the Boulevard or to Dal Lake.” Instead she wanted to take them to the bi-lanes of Srinagar and to small villages where her family could hear first hand about how Kashmir’s freedom has been taken away.
“In 2008 it felt like Azadi (freedom) was just around the corner. But 2010 was really different. There was more death and less hope.” Iffat said. Near Iffat’s home there was an old man who sold ice cream from a cart on the roadside. “One day I saw him chase a police wagon down the street. He was pleading, crying out to the vehicle, not to take his grandson away. But the police just drove off.”
“This is how people are disappeared in Kashmir.” said Sabika. Some say there are close to 10,000 people who have disappeared in Kashmir over the last two decades; often picked up by the police or the army and never seen again. It was these disappeared and their families that APDP sought justice for.
“It’s the small things that hurt the most.” Iffat explained, “Like how an army vehicle can just drive through a red light without stopping, and without getting in trouble.” In 2010 the state had put the police at the front line of protests. This was a strategic move that placed Kashmiris against Kashmiris. “It wouldn’t matter now if AFSPA was revoked, because the state would just shift from a military occupation to a police state.” For Iffat the police and military were one and the same thing, only with a different name and a different uniform.
—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.