IN MAY THIS YEAR, images of a weeping woman and the words “We are Palestine,” painted by the artist Mudasir Gul on the gates of a spillover channel of the Jhelum River in Srinagar’s Padshahi Bagh, began circulating beyond Kashmir. The police detained 21 people, including Gul, who had protested against the Israeli government’s recent bombing campaign in Gaza. “Every child in Kashmir knows about Palestine,” Gul, who spent three days in police custody, said in an interview. “Like the children of Gaza, we too have grown up in a conflict zone. Our lives are shaped by violence over which we have no control.”
This solidarity, visible in protest and in prayer, is decades old. In the Australia-based artist and writer Alana Hunt’s book Cups of nun chai, conversations around Kashmir often circle back to Palestine, at times by way of other oppressions, such as that of Tibetans by China, that of the Burmese people by various military juntas or that of Australia’s Aboriginal population by European settlers. Through such interactions, Hunt offers the possibility of thinking “beyond the nation-state, into new possibilities of political self-determination.”
The book is a collection of 118 conversations, each held over a cup of nun chai—salty tea, which is ubiquitous in Kashmir—to remember those who died during a summer of protests 11 years ago. The protests, initially against the killing of three young men in the north-Kashmir town of Machil by Indian soldiers, escalated after 17-year-old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo was killed, while returning home from a tuition class on 11 June 2010, when a teargas canister fired by police in downtown Srinagar pierced his skull. In that summer’s uprising, which many have compared to the Palestinian intifadas, at least 118 civilians—most of them young Kashmiris, the youngest an eight-year-old boy—were killed by security forces.