As I was explaining Cups of nun chai to Ahmed, I mentioned that there was next to nothing in the Australian media about the mass uprising of 2010 when he suddenly intervened and said, ‘Yes, that has always been our problem here in Kashmir’…. Whether it be in history books, literature or the media people in Kashmir are conscious of the misrepresentation and under-representation of their story.
Ahmed had an interest in academics which made him particularly conscious of words and their use. He said, ‘2010 had been terrible. Our boys were killed.’ Ahmed made a point to emphasise his use of the term boys. ‘I call them boys because they were all so young.’ He repeated, ‘they were nothing more than unarmed boys.’ But, like Ahmed, the state is also conscious of the power of words. And so those whom Ahmed describes as boys, have been termed ‘agitational terrorists’ by the state. Ahmed supposed it was probably the army who invented this phrase. Perhaps one could begin a linguistic study of its origins? Agitational terrorist. It is a phrase that weakens and evaporates once you begin to break down it’s use and meaning, but still, it circulates. Wars are also fought with words, through tiresome games that seek to misrepresent. In a piece called The Storytellers Suvaid Yaseen writes:
You feel frustrated. Mad. Going mad. Mad. You write.
You think about the changing categories. Terrorist. Terrorist sympathiser. Then came more creative names. With an irony attached. ‘Agitational terrorist’. That was when people took to peaceful agitations. With no guns, the term then advanced to ‘Gunless violence’. You think about these things. You laugh. You tell them to people. Laughingly. Some laugh, some fall silent.
You hear the news of a sixteen year old child, hit with a teargas shell on the head, who later breathed his last.…Friday evening one more young boy is shot dead because a group of them had looked at a military convoy which passed them by.
Ahmed was from a locality in Srinagar that he said – for better or worse – had been a hub of militancy and state oppression since the early 1990’s. When the armed resistance broke out in Kashmir Ahmed had been a teenager, and he described those years as something unimaginable. The anxiety that filled each night, sitting at home in the dark, never knowing when the army or BSF troops would come. Ahmed said he had seen a lot and this came through most in his eyes and less in his words. Sometimes it is what someone does not, or cannot, say that carries the greatest weight. Here there is something that moves beyond language.
Formally Ahmed had been appointed to a senior position in the state’s administration, but he had decided to leave the post because of the endless ethical compromises such a position entailed. Increasingly in Kashmir the state administration, and especially the police, are being pitched against their own people. In the uprisings of 2008 and 2010 it was not the Rashtriya Rifles or the Border Security Force or the Central Reserve Police Force but it was the Jammu and Kashmir State Police who were placed at the front line. That old maxim “divide and rule” rings as true as ever here. Corruption is rife. People often told me that former militants turned government informers were given positions in the police force. Ahmed said he knew the dual ways in which the police operated, with one face to the public and another behind closed doors, and it was that which he had walked away from.
Now Ahmed held a government position in education, which he was far more content with. Yet this position still prohibited him from writing and expressing his personal opinions in the media. Though whenever there is a need, a compulsion of sorts, people always seem to find their own routes through which to do what they must. Ahmed was no different.
It was Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and when I took a photograph Ahmed cupped his hand as if imagining the cup of nun chai in memory for those who were no more than ‘boys’.