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.
Nida was washing dishes in the kitchen with her back to me when she asked, “Alana, do you think Kashmir will ever get freedom?” Before I could really answer, she said, “I don’t believe we will. We are ourselves not an honest people.”
This was the beginning of Nida’s kitchen diatribe, flavoured with disillusionment and honesty. Growing up in the maze like bilanes of Sopore, a bastion for anti-Indian sentiment, protest and armed resistance, Nida had seen a lot. But it never seemed to end and she had become sceptical about what it all achieved.
Nida said her father wouldn’t like her saying this, but she told me to look at Kashmir’s leaders. She said they had one face to the public, with which they spoke of ideals, and behind closed doors they had another face they wore to make deals that were driven by self-interest and greed. She said Walter Lawrence, the colonial observer and much critiqued author of The Valley of Kashmir (1895), was right to describe Kashmiri people as a dishonest lot. Nida asked, “How can we expect freedom until we free ourselves from the ills of our own society?”
With frustrated emotion Nida spoke and I listened. Reflecting her own situation, she lamented, “In Kashmir people are willing to raise their voices against India within the four walls of their home, but not beyond.” Standing at the kitchen sink, Nida said Kashmir is lacking courage and clarity. “Ask a common stonepelter on the street why they are throwing stones. They are boys simply following a trend.” I asked her about the martyrs, how she made sense of the young boys who died on those streets, “They were all innocents. When the angels come for them, it is those boys who will be the first to ask, ‘What did I die for?’”
Nida’s voice was soft and beautiful yet full of a fierce exasperation. Usually we spoke about love or our families and friends while we hung out in the kitchen, cooking together, laughing and sharing recipes between Kashmir and Australia, but here the politics came out—confused, compressed and human. Nida had grown up seeing dead bodies. “I saw Sopore burning. I saw bodies carried past my house to the martyrs graveyard. I’ve seen so many. Once I saw a head pass by without a body.” For Kashmir to be free she believed we needed 100% dedication from 100% of the people. But this never happened. “Look at who our martyrs are,” Nida deplored, “they are all from the middle and lower classes. Why do we die and not the rich?”
While in 2009 the double rape and murder of two young women by security forces in Shopian brought about an immense 47 day strike led by the local consultative committee Majlis-e-Mashawarat, with support coming from across the valley, Nida felt frustrated that after 47 days it seemed people had forgotten. She asked, “What are we doing today to take care of all the women, young and old, raped by the army in Kunan-Poshpora and the injustice of Neelofar and Asiya’s death in Shopian? If we really cared for others as we care for ourselves we would never have given up.”
She referred to the uprising of 2010 as the ‘Ragda, Ragda’, a Kashmiri phrase, particularly popular in Sopore, that related to the act of removing stains from a piece of clothing and was used in this context to talk of removing or erasing the stains of India from Kashmir. Nida complained, “The Ragda Ragda came to an end because our stomachs were hungry. We ran out of rice and food and gas and we gave up, we said enough is enough—give us our rice, give us our food and give us our gas. Freedom can wait till next time.”
Nida said other countries in the world attained freedom by sacrificing endlessly. “If we really want freedom we have to leave everything Indian, just like India left everything that was British under Gandhi. But no. No one has the courage to leave their government jobs, or to go without sales, trade and supplies. We do want freedom. That is true. But we are also tired.” Nida herself had a government job that she could not leave; it was secure, but it wasn’t free. Her opinions reflected the contradictions and incongruence that she herself felt from within her own society.
From Nida as well as so many others I kept hearing again and again how the struggle was exhausting. It was not that Nida did not want Kashmir to be free, but that she had lost hope in the possibility that Kashmir could be free. As our kitchen diatribe came to an end Nida added, “Today there is not peace in Kashmir, as the media likes to pretend. We do not live in peace but in silence.”