“But why do they want Kashmir? What does it have that they need?” Gary was a man of procedure. Not so much habit, but meticulous procedure informed by his own sense of reason and logic. Nearing the end of their professional lives, Gary and his wife Maggie had set out on a working adventure; in the remote east Kimberley region of Western Australia they were running an Aboriginal art centre.
Our cups of nun chai rested on the table in front of us. They were too hot to hold. “I want to know how it all began. Not just everything from 2010 you’ve told us, but what came before that?” Maggie needed a broader context. I spoke about the Partition of South Asia, the promise of a plebiscite, the decay of democratic rights, the emergence of an armed struggle, and the systemic violence of the state. I spoke of how freedom movements are splintered, often with strategic intent. And I spoke of the multifaceted nature of protest in Kashmir today.
“So around 118 people died in 2010?” I nodded and Gary went on, “If you think about it, those 118 people were probably in direct contact with at least 100 other people in their day to day lives. If you multiple 118 by 100, that comes to over eleven thousand people who would have been directly affected by this loss.” Gary’s number game over death unsettled me a little, but it was more the way he went about it rather than what he meant. He was trying to articulate how this loss of life was not without consequence; the dead of 2010 rippled through Kashmir’s social fabric like a stone thrown into a pond. Again and again.
Thinking about Kashmir, Maggie and Gary’s minds travelled immediately to their experiences living and working in an Aboriginal community. At first Gary spoke of Australia’s colonisation as though it were something of the past, but Maggie soon intercepted and drew attention to the fact this process of colonisation was still very much taking place.
The night before I had been speaking with a friend who remarked that whatever was taking place in Kashmir couldn’t be worse than ‘here’ in remote Aboriginal Australia. I described in detail the extent of the military occupation of Kashmir, the reality of torture and mass graves. My friend was shocked, and stood corrected. But on one level she was also right. The war in Kashmir is loud; while it is undoubtedly complex it is also undeniable. Here the ongoing war of Australia’s colonisation moves silently. Here the heavy arms of colonisation do not exist in some distant past; they are extensive and continue to move surely in the present. My friend added that while in Kashmir the state was killing its own citizens, here the state had produced an environment in which Aboriginal citizens were now killing themselves. In some parts of Australia suicide among Aboriginal people is 40% higher than that of the non-Indigenous population—and over the last 30 years this number has only increased.