Danny sat down and immediately acknowledged that his cup of nun chai was for a life that had been lost in Kashmir. It was the 25th cup of nun chai and Danny was himself 25 years old. On July 31st Javid Ahmed Teli became the 25th person to die in this past Summer’s violence, but he himself was only 20 years of age.
We sat for some time.
Danny and I began speaking about “conversation as art”. He told me about a project he just completed that was based on a series of interviews he had edited together that explored the dreams of Vietnamese migrants in Australia. Relics that lay in the unconscious.
Danny wanted to know what it was that first took me to Kashmir. I knew about Kashmir but I always presumed it was a place I couldn’t venture on my own. I was initially planning a trip to Ladakh after reading Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh by Helena Norberg-Hodge, but the opportunity to visit Kashmir as an intern with an NGO arose and suddenly I found myself in the valley gathering information and documenting human rights violations.
It was an intense experience that has not left me. We worked in the day and I stayed with a family in the night. It was this mixture of intense beauty, of social warmth and the unspeakably tragic stories people shared so openly and with such necessity to talk that left such a deep imprint.
Danny asked if the people who died this past Summer were killed by the Indian state or other civilians. I tried to explain the context and dynamics of the protests, how civilians were taking to the streets in protest where they met the guns and batons of the Indian security forces. He asked if it was basically because Kashmir was a Muslim majority state in India, but it was more complex than a simple yes or no answer. We began to wander through the history of Kashmir from the present day and into the past. We touched upon the tactical use of non-violent protest and the symbolic impact of stone throwing, the decline of armed militancy which had been common throughout the 1990’s, the rigged elections in the mid-1980’s and the political manipulation and corruption that had followed the mess that emerged between India, Pakistan and Kashmir following Partition in 1947.
Danny spoke about what he called “old-news”. He said the stories of Kashmir stopped circulating in the international media because they were considered “old news”. Danny said the US was making strategic friends with India and China while turning a blind eye to things like Kashmir and Tibet. The recent wikileaks reveal how very real this selective blindness is.
People from India were often a little concerned to hear that I was visiting Kashmir. But I explained to Danny that I always felt safe – mostly because I was with families who took care of me as their own. But I also felt safe because of the speed at which the occupation becomes normal. It astounds me how accustomed one can come to the sight of 500 armed security forces lining the streets, standing on top of buildings and their ongoing convoy of armed vehicles that block and slow your way to school or work. One afternoon I was sitting on a bus heading home with a girlfriend and we spoke about boys and love while the security forces stopped the traffic outside. Guns in hand their fingers near the trigger, they made us wait and my friend used the time to talk of nothing else but love.
On the one hand that resilience to keep on living life, to keep on speaking about love in the face of an intense military occupation is wonderful. But it is also important to fight against the normalisation of that military occupation – to make sure that it is always something abnormal.