I explained to Thornton that this was the twentieth cup of nun chai; a 17 year old boy named Tariq Ahmed Dar, who was killed in police custody on July 25, was the twentieth person to die in the conflict in Kashmir this past summer.
We sat in silence.
After some time Thornton said that 17 is very young. He said that at 17 one’s life has only just begun, or rather that at 17 one’s life hasn’t even begun.
He asked if the young man was Muslim, and we delved into the religious makeup of Kashmir historically over time and geographically across space. When we came to the issue of communalism, within Kashmir and broader India, and more specifically the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in the early 1990’s, Thornton was interested to learn of the class politics, the feudal dynamics of land ownership and the rule of a Hindu King over a Muslim majority population which was actually part of a minority within greater India. Thornton was interested to see that things were more complex than religious difference alone.
Thornton asked if the shooting that was killing these young men, was happening on the border between India and Pakistan. He seemed to associate it with a border dispute of some kind, and was surprised when I said it was not directly on the border or between India and Pakistan – but rather between Kashmiri civilians and the Indian state. Thornton asked if it was possible to describe the situation as an “occupation”. His eyes grew when I spoke of India Occupied Kashmir, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and China Occupied Kashmir – and I said to speak of them all as “occupied”, is a necessary political statement in itself.
We spoke of the protests, the stone throwing and the waves of violence that build up and subside. But that aside, Thornton wanted to know more about the quality of life in Kashmir. He was fond of the ideal of egalitarianism and the land reforms that took place in Kashmir shortly after Partition interested him. I was reminded of an article by Harsh Mander published a few days ago in The Hindu. Titled Hunger in the Valley, Mander’s article begins to address some of the daily struggles Kashmiri people face, such as food and job security, alongside the military occupation. Mander reports that while it is officially estimated that 28.3% of people in India live below the poverty line, in Jammu and Kashmir that number lies at only 4.5%. Speaking in direct relation to the land reforms that took place in Kashmir during the first decade of India’s independence, Mander remarks that Kashmir is among the most egalitarian societies in India. However, while the region is largely an agrarian society, according to Mander, there has been a worrying deceleration of agricultural production in the state, which has made it necessary for goods to be imported from the rest of India. The core of Mander’s argument concedes that while ‘big’ battles play out in Kashmir we can’t forget that “the ‘small’ battles of everyday survival never cease.”
Thornton wanted to know about how people made their livelihoods and if it was better for one to leave Kashmir for work. He asked what the standard of education was like and wanted to know if it was free.
Thornton said he knew of Kashmir as a place the Beatles visited 40 years ago. He knew of it as one of the most beautiful regions in the world, which he imagined it still was. But to think of young boys dying was tragic.
He asked if the UN were going to step in….