“This is for Kashmir.” Danny tasted the tea. He is lean, blonde and boyish. He looks younger than his 25 years. This is the 25th cup of nun chai. On July 31st 2010 Javid Ahmed Teli was the 25th person to be killed by Indian soldiers in the summer’s violence; he was only 20.
“I’ve been working on an artwork, collaborating with Vietnamese migrants around Sydney. We’ve been recording their dreams. So much lies in the unconscious, and in conversation. Trauma finds a way to resolve itself there. What was it that first took you to Kashmir?” Danny’s question reminded me of Arundhati Roy’s writing and the book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh by Helena Norberg-Hodge. These were among my first distant impressions of Kashmir.
People from India often became concerned when they heard I was visiting Kashmir. But as I explained to Danny, despite the political context, I always felt safe. A number of really wonderful families took care of me as if I were their own. However, I also felt safe because of the astounding speed at which the military occupation becomes normal. Everyday one passes hundreds of men on the streets in uniform and with guns. They stand on street corners, on top of buildings, at bus stops. Their convoys occupy the roads like a street parade of power that blocks and slows traffic. People are late for work. Kids can’t get to school. One afternoon I was sitting on a bus heading home with a girlfriend when the soldiers stopped the traffic outside. Guns in hand and their fingers near the trigger, they made us wait and my friend – completely unfazed – used the time to talk of little else but love. She reminded me how important it is to keep on living and loving in the face of violence.
It is similarly important to refuse to let a military occupation such as this become normal. “Kashmir is old-news. That’s why we don’t hear about it. The US is making friends with India and China while turning a blind eye to places likes Tibet and Kashmir, and the international media follows. You can see it in wikileaks – how a state’s blindness is selective.”