Ben is an old friend who now works in the film and television industry. As we sat on a park bench with our cups of nun chai he said, ‘Okay, now give me the spiel’. I said there was no ‘spiel’. I said there was no common 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. On the 11th of June the 17 year old Tufail Ahmed Matoo was on his way home from tuitions when he was hit in the head with a tear gas canister fired by the Indian state’s armed forces. He died immediately. The subsequent protests, which continued throughout the Summer of 2010, led to the killing of an estimated 117 people as the army, local police and CRPF opened fire on unarmed or stone throwing protesters. Ben was among the first to ask after the families of those who had died and I was reminded how important it is to remember not just those who have gone, but also the stories of those who remain.
Late last year 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 organizations 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.
Ben asked if I was still thinking of writing a piece of more conventional journalism about the situation in Kashmir. Ben regularly watched the news, read the papers and thought of himself as a relatively informed person – yet he had heard next to nothing about Kashmir. He wanted to see something in the Australian media.
I asked Ben what he would want to see in this piece of journalism. He said that it was just important to get something out there in the press. I asked Ben if he were to make a documentary about Kashmir how he would shape it. He said it was important to tell the stories of everyday people in Kashmir, and then he spoke of ‘hope’.
This idea of hope resurfaced in our conversation when I described how the region of Kashmir was collectively occupied by India, Pakistan and China. I could feel Ben’s mind swinging between feelings of hope and hopelessness. I asked Ben what he imagined everyday people might hope for in a place like Kashmir and he began to describe the basic right to move, to travel, to speak and to do things without fear. Ben had recently been blown away by the political and organisational potential the internet provided people with. Before Tunisia, Egypt and even Libya he had never before imagined the use of social networking sites for mass social change.
Ben became much more energised at this point in the conversation – perhaps it was a sense of hopefulness that emerged in him. I spoke of the use of the internet in Kashmir and the proliferation of debate and information sharing that blogs and facebook facilitated. But it also seemed pertinent to point out that governments were also searching for ways to clamp down on these forms of media. Bent old me that here in Australia our government had a button that could switch off the internet in one go, should it ever feel the need to.