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.
I told Ahmed that there was next to nothing in the Australian media about the mass uprising of 2010. “Yes, that has always been our problem here in Kashmir,” he said. Whether in history books, literature or the media, people in Kashmir understand the misrepresentation and under-representation of their story.
Ahmed had an interest in academics, and this made him particularly conscious of words and their use. “2010 had been terrible. Our boys were killed. I call them boys on purpose because they were all so young.” He repeated, “They were nothing more than unarmed boys.” But, like Ahmed, the state is also conscious of the power of words. And so those whom Ahmed describes as boys, have also been termed ‘agitational terrorists’. “I guess it was the army who invented that term.” Perhaps someone should begin a linguistic study of its origins? Agitational terrorist. It is a phrase that weakens and evaporates once you begin to break it down. But still, it circulates. Wars are also fought with words. In a piece called The Storytellers Suvaid Yaseen writes:
You feel frustrated. Mad. Going mad. Mad. You write.
You think about the changing categories. Terrorist. Terrorist sympathiser. Then came more creative names. With an irony attached. ‘Agitational terrorist’. That was when people took to peaceful agitations. With no guns, the term then advanced to ‘Gunless violence’. You think about these things. You laugh. You tell them to people. Laughingly. Some laugh, some fall silent.
You hear the news of a sixteen year old child, hit with a teargas shell on the head, who later breathed his last.…Friday evening one more young boy is shot dead because a group of them had looked at a military convoy which passed them by.
Ahmed was from a locality in Srinagar that had — for better or worse — been a hub of militancy and state oppression since the early 1990s. “I was a teenager when the armed resistance broke out. It was unimaginable. The anxiety that filled each night. We sat at home in the dark, never knowing when the army or BSF troops would come through the door.” He had seen a lot, but his eyes spoke more loudly than words. Sometimes it is what one cannot say that carries the greatest weight. Some things are bigger than language.
Formally Ahmed held a senior position in the state’s administration, but he decided to leave the post because of the endless ethical compromises such a position entailed. Increasingly in Kashmir the state administration, and especially the police, are being pitched against their own people. In the uprisings of 2008 and 2010 the J&K state police were placed on the frontline along with the Rashtriya Rifles, the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force. That old maxim ‘divide and rule’ rings as true as ever here. Corruption is rife. People often told me that former militants turned government informers were given positions in the police force. Ahmed said he knew the dual ways in which the police operated, with one face to the public and another behind closed doors.
Ahmed now worked in education, which he was far more content with. Yet this position still prohibited him from writing and expressing his personal opinions in the media. Though whenever there is a need, a compulsion of sorts, people find their own routes. Ahmed was no different.
It was Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and when I took a photograph Ahmed cupped his hand as if imagining the cup of nun chai in memory for those who were no more than ‘boys’.