Ben is an old friend from school who now works in the film and television industry. As we sat on a park bench with our cups of nun chai he looked at me and said, “Okay, now give me the spiel”. I said plainly that there was no ‘spiel’. There was no format or set of rules that governed how we did this. We simply had to move together through this conversation with the cups of nun chai from Kashmir.
Ben asked what happened to Tufail Ahmed Matoo’s family, the seventeen year old boy whose death ignited the protests of 2010. He was among the first to ask about the families of those who had died. I realised the importance of remembering not just those who have gone, but also the lives of those people who remain.
Late in 2010, a small article in Greater Kashmir reported that Tufail’s father, Ashraf Matoo, would be seeking asylum outside India if justice was not delivered for his son’s death. Ashraf Matoo was in the process of approaching human rights organisations and he complained that the police investigation was moving at a ‘snail’s pace’. He said he felt threatened by security agencies and feared for the safety of his family. He said he had been told to keep quiet and was being coerced into dropping the charges and accepting state compensation. At the end of the article there was a single remark from the state authorities responsible for Tufail’s death. The newspaper report read:
SP North of city, Showkat Shah said, “There is no threat,” adding, “The family is playing politics. They are being exploited by separatists for their nefarious designs. There is no security agency threatening them.”
Showkat Shah’s remarks appeared hollow. Defensive. And nervous. However, the fact this article was so small sheds light on how common Ashraf Matoo’s experience really is.
This idea of hope resurfaced in my conversation with Ben many times. When I described how the region of Kashmir was collectively occupied by India, Pakistan and China, I could feel Ben’s mind swimming in feelings of desperate hope and hopelessness. I asked Ben what he imagined everyday people might hope for in a place like Kashmir. “I guess it’s about the right to move. To travel around, go places. To visit friends and family. To speak and say things without fear. Without death courting your life.”
Ben was blown away by the political and organisational potential the internet provided. Before Tunisia, Egypt and even Libya he never imagined the use of social networking sites for mass social change. Ben became really energised at this point in our conversation. Perhaps it was a sense of hopefulness that he saw. We spoke of the importance of the internet in Kashmir and the proliferation of debate and information sharing that blogs and Facebook enabled. But it also seemed pertinent to point out the way governments are also trying to clamp down on the freedoms these forms of media afford. Ben told me, “Here in Australia, our government has a single button. It can switch off the internet completely at any moment it wants to.” That seemed phenomenal. In information terms it was almost akin to cutting off the very air we breathe. In Australia they had never done it, in Kashmir they do it all the time.