An Interview with Alana Hunt
It was on a cold evening in March 2017, during my first visit to Srinagar, Kashmir, as a reporter, that I first read an excerpt from Cups of nun chai in Kashmir Reader, one of the region’s primary newspapers. I was sharing a room with my friend’s little sister, twelve-year-old Asma, and we read the testimonial slowly, tracing the words with our fingers, as I became aware of the realities children in Kashmir have to live with, the violence enmeshed in their everyday lives. Cups of nun chai is an ongoing work by Australian artist Alana Hunt, who lives on Miriwoong country, in Western Australia. In Hunt’s own words, all her work, in both Australia and Kashmir, engages with “the violence that results from the fragility of nations, and the aspirations and failures of colonial dreams.” Cups of nun chai, meanwhile, “is at once a search for meaning in the face of something so brutal it appears absurd” and “an absurd gesture when meaning itself becomes too much to bear.”
The book version of Cups of nun chai is a collection of 118 conversations that Hunt held with people over a cup of nun chai, or salty Kashmiri tea. A memorial to the more than 118 Kashmiri civilians killed by the Indian armed forces in 2010, Hunt’s book, published in 2020, questions the normalcy of the violence established by the Indian nation-state’s military occupation of the Kashmir valley and the media landscape that erases and obfuscates the loss of Kashmiri lives.
The conversations that form the heart of the work capture specific events and the feelings around them. “While the work deals with political scenarios, it does so through intimate encounters, predominantly within the space of home,” Hunt says. The conversations, always conducted over a cup of pink nun chai, are lucid, intimate exchanges, in which Hunt’s companions reveal parts of themselves and their experiences, and contemplate the political scenario and what Hunt calls the “disproportionate silence” around Kashmir. Hunt titles each conversation, which is also marked by a photograph of a cup of nun chai held in the drinker’s palm. Her own presence in the conversations is resolute but compassionate and mediative. She provokes thoughts and questions in the minds of her companions, delegitimizing the normalization of military occupation in the Kashmir valley, and deconstructing the idea of Indian democracy, and political violence everywhere.
Hunt is agile in how she hooks the reader’s attention and draws them into the lives of a place that has been obfuscated, commodified, and erased from history, the media, and global discourse. The book is reflective of the themes Hunt addresses in all her work: the entitlement of present-day colonization in Australia and other parts of the world; the materials used in service of its projects (gravel, tar, cement); the deceptive language of such initiatives, which use terms like development and lifestyle to justify the gentrification of cities and the expulsion of laboring and Indigenous populations to the peripheries of their own hometowns. Hunt’s work is a powerful meditation on the guises of imperialism, and the ways they are cultivated by the people that profit from and participate in them.
Over the past two years, Hunt and I exchanged several emails. Once, I wrote to her about my work in Goa, where I saw real estate utopias for the wealthy emerge at the cost of complex riverine systems and agricultural land. Some months ago, I wrote to her about Culloden, a popular Scottish tourist destination in the highlands near Inverness, which has a history of bloodshed from when English armies ruthlessly cleared out thousands of local highlanders. She wrote back describing how the subjects her work centers on have “so many resonances,” including many she may not yet be aware of.
Our interview was conducted through a series of emails, and one long Zoom chat from our desks, and included exchanges about work and life amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
THE BELIEVER: Can you tell me how you arrived at making Cups of nun chai and what drove you to make work about Kashmir?
ALANA HUNT: It was in Delhi that Kashmir first became known to me, as much through Kashmir’s presence in that city as within the silences that surround it. My encounter with Kashmir was quite gradual at first—through people, books, and the tones in which it was written about, and its absences within Indian newspapers. I also encountered the region via documentary films, including Safar-i-azadi (Journey to freedom) by the pro-independence leader Yasin Malik and Jashn-e-azadi (How we celebrate freedom) by Sanjay Kak. Perhaps the first book I read that really centered Kashmir—albeit through the lens of the Indian legal system—was 13 December: A Reader, which sheds light on the farcical trial of Mohammad Afzal Guru . I was also reading Arundhati Roy’s writings and the book Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge. But it wasn’t until I traveled to Kashmir, conversing with people over cups of nun chai inside their homes, that the place lost a certain abstraction and became tangible and hard to turn away from. And upon returning to Delhi, I was struck by how very blind, perhaps willingly, the Indian capital was to this world that was only eight hundred kilometers away.
Cups of nun chai began to take shape when I returned to Australia after almost three years in Delhi. It started as a response to the summer of 2010 in Kashmir, when 118 people—mostly young men, but also women and children—were killed by the state in almost as many days, many of them during pro-freedom protests. Back then, much of the writing that came from Kashmir was quickly absorbed by state censorship in India and did not reach far, most certainly not to Australia. I was looking for a way to bridge that gap, while forging a meaningful requiem for those who died. I found a way to do that through the simplest of things—conversations. I wanted to talk about what was happening in Kashmir without imposing any distinct worldview—mine or anyone else’s—while simultaneously opening up space for more discourse.
Cups of nun chai unfolded over two years of tea and conversation with 118 people, mostly in Australia, India, and Kashmir. Each cup was photographed and each conversation was written from memory. These accumulated online and in occasional exhibitions, and were later serialized in the newspaper Kashmir Reader—like an undercover exhibition slipping within the folds of a newspaper. It is now a book published recently by New Delhi–based Yaarbal Books—a form that enables the work to move across national borders and social boundaries with an intimacy and fluidity that an exhibition or website could not offer.
BLVR: And nun chai itself? How did you arrive at nun chai as a way to talk about Kashmir?
AH: Nun chai is the invitation, the frame, the flavor, the catalyst. In this way, the nun chai is a bit beguiling. The work uses the invitation to converse over a cup of tea, the premise of hospitality, to encounter some of the most unimaginable forms of violence and injustice that are taking place in the world today. Nun chai is also very different from the masala chai for which India is known. The distinct salty flavor of nun chai helped people outside Kashmir to recognize how Kashmir is not India. It provided a flavor of the place that people could quite literally digest.
In Kashmir, nun chai is at the heart of daily life, and has the capacity to bring people together and nurture conversation at times of celebration and bereavement. After visiting Kashmir, I would make nun chai for friends in Delhi and Australia. And it was through these casual conversations that I began to come up against some of the ways Kashmir has been obscured, and how deep the subtle prejudices run. In Australia it was generally a complete lack of awareness—an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of thing. People in India, even those that are otherwise liberal-minded, would sometimes warn me not to trust Kashmiris, or would minimize Kashmir’s right to self-determination by claiming a lack of political consensus. But amid this there was also a desire in people to understand more. It was these kinds of discussions, ones I had before any conception of the work, that allowed me to sense the eventual shape of Cups of nun chai as a more formal and structured “artwork.”
BLVR: You talk about this in the book as well, but what was it like to navigate that India, a country that fought British colonial power and then instituted a regime itself after it became free ? Do you remember arriving at that?
AH: It wasn’t one singular moment, but a cumulative understanding. Coming from the settler colony of Australia, it was not something entirely unfamiliar. Nation-states are not the benevolent structures I was taught about in school, but are implicitly self-centered. Immense human, social, and environmental costs are engendered through the drawing of borders and nationalist projects like the construction of large dams—in Australia as much as in South Asia. India is commonly recognized as “the world’s largest democracy,” but the absurdity of its violence against the people of Kashmir, whom it claimed as its own, the relative normalization of this loss of life, both within Kashmir and well beyond it, and the attempts to erase and obscure what was taking place—all of this rendered Cups of nun chai necessary.
Also, while studying at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, I took a course with the late M.S.S. Pandian that introduced me to the fact that nations are fragmentary, and that their rather recent and arbitrary struggles to build something unified out of largely resistant fragments cause an ongoing condition of anxiety. And this anxiety produces violence. The course provided a theoretical language to understand what was playing out in Kashmir and India, while connecting it back to Australia. These ideas and their manifestation inform all my work.
BLVR: Cups of nun chai opens up a site of conversations; it is not determinative but somewhat fluid. Was that a purposeful way to navigate conversations as someone who’s not from Kashmir?
AH: I have always been particularly hesitant about my place in this space of representation as a foreigner from Australia, and more so considering the marginalization of Kashmiri voices amid the dominance of those from India and Pakistan. As I began to encounter Kashmir, I also became conscious of the dynamics of how Kashmir was represented in the Indian media and popular imagination, and especially the ramifications of that.
An earlier work, Paper txt msgs from Kashmir (2009–11), which responded to a ban on prepaid phone services across Kashmir, and Cups of nun chai have both skirted direct representations of state violence to develop more lateral ways of addressing its manifestations in daily life and opening resistances to it.
Cups of nun chai has taken shape across a number of different forms for over a decade. This period, and the moments the work has encountered along the way—like its serialization in Kashmir Reader in 2016—have shaped the work in important ways. My work is a constellation of people and places I know and care for and also, importantly, draw from. There is a reciprocity at play.
But this work is one small part of a much larger chorus of incredibly powerful cultural work emanating from Kashmir in contemporary art, journalism, music, poetry, literature, filmmaking, and academia. People sometimes assume Kashmir has no voice. This is not true. Under incredibly difficult circumstances, Kashmir is speaking. People just need to listen better.
BLVR: I was in my early twenties when I started realizing the oppression that we, as urban, middle-class Indians, had been encouraging in Kashmir through our silence. Did you notice this as well?
AH: I did notice something similar when I returned to New Delhi from my first trip to Kashmir. I was in my student hostel at JNU, in the mess hall with some female students from India, and they wanted to hear about my time in Kashmir. In response to some of my comments, one of them said, almost wistfully, that she would feel sad if Kashmir was not part of India. It struck me. Her potential sadness at the idea of Kashmir not being part of India was absolutely blind to the actual sadness and anger and suffocation many people feel within Kashmir under the Indian regime. This casually imagined “I would feel sad if…” is what justifies the militarization and contributes to a false sense of ownership. As though Kashmir were a thing or a commodity instead of someone else’s home.
Colonization of any kind is not just territorial; it is a cultural indoctrination of the people in whose name it happens. I think of Australia here, where a colonial mindset about the subjugation of Indigenous people and the appropriation of land is completely normalized in contemporary political discourse, as much as in everyday life. The Kashmiri scholar Mohamad Junaid recently described how India commonly views the process of settler colonialism in Kashmir as a form of “progress.” He also put forward the idea that, in making such claims, India’s political culture resembles that of the British culture it sought to overthrow, in both its actions and its worldview. In this sense, he said, India is in fact more colonized than the Kashmir it attempts to control.
BLVR: For decades, Kashmir has been sold as an artifact for consumption. Many Kashmiris I know fight the dissonance between the constructed image of Kashmir and the reality of it. I notice how Kashmiri fiction writers have to demystify imposed narratives, even though they write fiction. Do you feel the weight of this discord?
AH: Conventional representations of Kashmir swing between beauty and violence, and even the beautification of violence. I tend to pull back from image-making and look toward other, subtler means of expression and representation. I never felt particularly comfortable pointing a camera at Kashmir, and instead tried to grasp what sits outside of the image, at its limits.
But what you say about novelists having to demystify their fiction in order to counter the constructed image of Kashmir—while that may be a challenge for some, that is not my challenge. I am not working in fiction. I am working with conversation, and in the realm of memory and real events. But yes, the absurdity of that reality, the deep brutality of the military occupation coupled with the simultaneous attempt to erase evidence of the same—this was all key to the development of Cups of nun chai. I wanted to state things as clearly and directly as they were being conveyed to me in conversation. In some ways, it is an attempt to move away from and refuse the normalization of the violence inflicted on Kashmir, and in doing so to make it visible to others. And through illuminating it, the work also aims to create a sense of care, while nurturing a discussion across international borders that could somehow resonate and connect back to the region.
BLVR: The work has had quite a journey, right—over ten years, and in various formats? How did you see these iterations play out? And I wonder if its pace was sometimes weighty or tiring.
AH: The real weight is the one Kashmir endures. The pace of my work was not so weighty or tiring but necessary. Although I have often put pressure on myself to work faster, as the work brewed over time, I learned not only to trust but also to respect this pace. As an eponymous work, how could it not take time to brew?
Cups of nun chai remembers particular moments while encountering, and almost collaborating with, other moments it moves with. And these constant back-and-forth movements between personal spaces and public ones have shaped the work profoundly. Cups of nun chai emerged during the summer of 2010, but its serialization in Kashmir Reader throughout 2016 and 2017 brought a whole other level to the work. This was not just its public circulation within Kashmir but also the subsequent banning of Kashmir Reader  and the routine censorship that Kashmiri media constantly encounters. There is a sense of repetition that is central to the form of the work too. The state’s violence is repetitious, and the work responded to that, almost stubbornly, through 118 repetitious encounters over 118 repetitious cups of tea.
The responsibility this work entails is always heavy, but that weight is important because it keeps me on my toes. I am always asking myself: How can I work in a way that is somehow worthy of those killed, without tokenizing them or being invasive? Even now, as I speak to you, I have similar questions hovering over my shoulder: How can I speak of my work (and in turn about Kashmir) as a non-Kashmiri? Without claiming to be an expert? Without glossing over the political urgency of what is still taking place? Without overlooking the importance of artistic form, even during times of war? The decade-long journey and the work’s engagement during this period with different formats—from conversation and discussion, to written word and image, to the website, newspaper, installation, and now this book—were driven primarily by a desire to converse and to circulate, both within and outside Kashmir. The work needed to reach the public sphere, to move into the world, as opposed to moving solely in the art world.
In this way, the capacity of books to move is phenomenal. Just last week someone tagged a photo of the book being read on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Lebanon. It now sits in solidarity in bookstores in Srinagar, somewhat subversively in Delhi, and on the shelves of bookstores in Australia, where it will perhaps encounter someone who does not know of Kashmir at all.
BLVR: Do you see the book format as somewhat pertinent, seeing as exhibitions, or other artistic formats that the rest of the world may take for granted, are difficult to produce in Kashmir?
AH: Of course. The serialization in the newspaper happened, in one sense, precisely because there is no public exhibition space for this kind of work in Kashmir. But there was more to it than that. Publishing Cups of nun chai in Kashmir Reader enabled the work to reach Kashmir and a broader and more diverse audience than an exhibition ever would.
Further, in placing the work in the newspaper, I was interested in the juxtaposition of what were essentially memories of 2010 with the news of the present day—a collision of the recent past with the present. I wanted the serialization to subtly pick up on what had been continuous between these two periods and what was shifting. In that sense, the headlines of the newspaper, the images, the advertising, the events it reported—all those became textual and temporal material interacting with Cups of nun chai, bringing together two distinct moments. Brewing.
When the serialization was completed, I gathered copies of the newspaper and bound them into three volumes, representing the periods before the newspaper ban, during the ban, and after it. These volumes are an archive of Cups of nun chai’s serialization, but also the period of 2016–17 in Kashmir, which followed the killing of rebel commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. The second volume contains an essay by Hilal Mir, then the editor of Kashmir Reader, and blank pages representing the number of newspapers that would have been printed if the ban had not been in place. The third volume contains copies of the newspaper after the ban was lifted, and a piece by Arif Ayaz Parrey, which was later developed into an online prelude for the Cups of nun chai website.
BLVR: I read my first snippet of your work in Kashmir Reader in 2017. A preteen in Kashmir showed it to me. It made her feel less isolated, perhaps.
AH: It is heartening to hear that. The newspaper serial unfolded during a particularly suffocating time in Kashmir, following the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani in 2016 . This was something the editors and I had not foreseen when the serialization began, on the anniversary of the killing of Tufail Ahmad Mattoo  that same year.
Parvaiz Bukhari, a journalist and one of the editors of Kashmir Reader at the time my work was serialized, writes about this in his brief but striking essay “Between Atrocity and Denial,” which is featured in the book:
When the stories of Cups of nun chai were serialized in the newspaper Kashmir Reader, many Kashmiris I know had felt deeply humanized by the honest and unmediated ordinariness of their own social and political truths contained in the stories. For me the mode of these conversations suggested a way of blowing off some of the fog in the warring narratives that cloud the many realities of Kashmir. They were doing so for many other readers of the newspaper as well.
Then, toward the end of the summer of rage and violent protests in 2016, the government banned the newspaper. The silencing lasted three months, a punishment to the reporters and editors for daring to look at the forest beyond the fog.
During the ban, I assumed Kashmir Reader would not return to print, and even if it did, I was certain it would no longer run Cups of nun chai. But once the ban was lifted, Kashmir Reader resumed the serialization immediately. Its commitment to publishing the work during this period was probably the best form of feedback I have ever received as an artist.
BLVR: One of my favorite testimonials in the book is the moment when your grandmother drinks the tea and asks, “What time would it be right now in Kashmir?” That question led me to believe that something had been added to her consciousness. That is valuable, when places and their lives are introduced to us through art and writing. Did you expect that to happen?
AH: My grandma has since passed on. But at that point, she was an elderly lady who had never given much thought to Kashmir at all—her life and the news in Australia had never given her much opportunity or need to. That was exactly the surface I wanted to scratch.
I suppose my grandmother, like most people in Australia, would generally watch half an hour of news a day on TV—and that included the weather and commercial breaks. So really, you’re looking at fifteen to eighteen minutes of news time, which supposedly fits in coverage of the whole world. This is the media landscape we live in—fickle and rapid—one we also encourage with our consumption of it. I wanted to challenge that through the book. The memories contained in it are a small gesture from someone who never otherwise knew that Kashmir wanted the right to self-determination to begin with. Hopefully, there is some small value to that.
BLVR: I see that you address a lot of your art, especially in Cups of nun chai, through memory. Do you see it as an effective tool?
AH: A lot of artists work with memory—as a “concept,” it flooded my days at art school, and was often thrown around as a term with a vacuity I tried to avoid. I never intended to work with memory as a trope. Instead, I kind of fell into it.
Memory is a particularly effective tool in the battle to control narratives, to counter political rhetoric and official histories. People in Kashmir so often told me it is their memory that fuels their resistance. Governments know this, too, which is why there is so much energy put into crafting history to align with the interests of the nation-state, wherever that may be.
BLVR: I always think about how spaces of resistance and art that defies dominant hierarchies are isolated from one another. It is affirmative that in your work there is a connection to these themes, people, and lives across borders. Do you see parallels between your work in Australia and that about Kashmir?
AH: While my work in Australia and about Kashmir may at first appear to be worlds apart, the same currents run through them both. In both places, my work grapples with the violence, the great absurdities, and the profound fragilities of colonialism and nation-making. Notions of development and progress, little more than colonial dreams and aspirations, have become increasingly important to my work in Australia, at the same time as I have become aware of these things in Kashmir, increasingly visible with what has been taking place there since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019 .
In Australia, as in Kashmir, colonization is not historic; it continues every day. And our lives are part of this process. My work in Australia has turned the lens onto non-Indigenous Australia, examining my own colonial culture, putting it under the microscope. Making legible to the observer the inherent violence of seemingly banal things like road-making or bush-walking, forms of development and leisure.
I live in a remote part of North West Australia on Miriwoong country, near a town called Kununurra. This town wasn’t created till the 1960s, because of the construction of a large dam. Until that point, colonization did not have a very solid grip on this part of the continent. But there is a gamut of ways that is happening now, in real time, and one of those ways is through development—through roads and large dams and industrial-scale agriculture and mining. Alongside that is this settler aspiration toward leisure and tourism and that sense of abundance that much of our capitalist world strives for. I spoke about this recently in a discussion with the Kashmiri anthropologist Mona Bhan.
BLVR: That is pertinent in many parts of the Indian subcontinent itself: In Goa, for instance, where the movement of the wealthy in search of real estate treasures has displaced many rural and Indigenous communities. Or what I read about California, of the global rich moving those that have lived in cities like San Francisco to its peripheries.
AH: I’ll read you an excerpt of a poem by an Indigenous Palyku author named Ambelin Kwaymullina. She writes:
There is no part of this place
that was not
by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander nation
There are no trees
that were not
For me, as a non-Indigenous person, as a colonist here in Australia, a lot of the ways I see my own culture have been influenced by my relationships (both professional and personal) with Aboriginal people. I want to make legible the arrogance with which my culture lives and moves in this place—which runs most often in direct conflict with what Ambelin expresses in these words. And I think when we discussed that story about the Indian girl in my hostel, her entitlement resonated with how entitled my culture feels to be living on this continent today.
I recently exhibited in the show The National 2021: New Australian Art at Carriageworks in Sydney, showing images from the bodies of work All the violence within this and In the national interest. The first contains images of tourists at a spring in a green palm forest; the second contains images of abandoned small-scale gravel pits that dot the highways where I live, like cigarette burns on a tortured landscape. These gravel pits are used to make the roads that the tourists drive on to get to the springs. All of this is done on stolen land. These things, of course, resonate elsewhere, like in Goa, as you said, but also in Kashmir, where tourism is pushed by the state to further imbue Indians with a sense of ownership and identification. The development of infrastructure, like roads and airports, in specific parts of the Kashmir valley ensures this access, as it does here in Australia.
BLVR: That also resonates with how Indians from dominant-caste and elite communities like to shadow the struggle against colonialism but then think little about the power they yield in the subcontinent itself.
AH: We all have varying degrees of power: you can lack it in some circumstances but exercise it in others. Power can be abstracted, too, so that colonization, in Australia, for instance, is something many non-Indigenous people associate with events that took place hundreds of years ago, or with symbols like Captain Cook, rather than with the life they are leading today. Or in India, people can think of British imperialism without looking at what their own state is doing to the people it is trying to forcibly include, in the case of Kashmir, or exclude, through the recent spate of discriminatory legislation like the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 .
Colonization moves through seemingly banal things like homeownership and tourism, or infrastructure disguised as national progress, like roads or large dams. I feel this where I live very acutely, in my body, and an examination of it materializes through my work. As Bhan has argued, things like cement and gravel are not apolitical, but are materials that hold political ideologies in place.
- Mohammad Afzal Guru was the primary person accused in the attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in December 2001. He was arrested by the Delhi police less than twenty-four hours after the event. Guru was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of India in 2002, and was hanged in secret by the Indian government in February 2013.
- In August 1947, on the occasion of India’s independence from the British colonial government and the creation of Pakistan, the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, situated in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, remained under the regime of Hindu-Dogra ruler Hari Singh. In October 1947, Singh asked for the Indian government’s assistance and military aid in quelling a Pashtun insurgency from Pakistan into the Kashmir valley. This was the beginning of Kashmir’s accession into India, wherein Singh signed over Jammu and Kashmir to the Dominion of India in the same month. October 1947 also marked the installation of the Indian military in Kashmir for the first time.
- Kashmir Reader is one of Kashmir’s largest newspapers, and it is headquartered in Srinagar. On October 2, 2016, the paper was banned by Indian authorities for being critical of India during that year’s uprisings in Kashmir. It remained out of print and circulation between October 2 and December 28, 2016.
- Burhan Muzaffar Wani was the twenty-one-year-old leader of the militant outfit Hizbul-Mujahideen. He was shot dead by Indian security forces in 2016. Wani’s killing led to an outpouring of public mourning and protests across Kashmir.
- Tufail Ahmad Mattoo was a seventeen-year-old Kashmiri who was killed by a tear gas canister thrown by police during a protest in downtown Srinagar in 2010. Mattoo’s killing ignited the protests and mourning that engulfed the Kashmir valley in 2010.
- On August 5, 2019, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370 and Article 35A, constitutional provisions that provided the state of Jammu and Kashmir (now reorganized as a union territory) with limited autonomy under the Indian state. Before the revocation, and for many months after, the government instituted a complete communication shutdown in Kashmir, barring phones, television, and the internet.
- The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), was passed by the Indian Parliament under its BJP government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December of that year. The CAA fast-tracks citizenship for those who arrived in India prior to December 31, 2014 (effectively demanding proof of citizenship from those who arrived in India after 2014). If those arriving after 2014 are found to have insufficient documentation, the CAA provides citizenship only to Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, and Christians, and excludes Muslims. The CAA has been criticized as a direct assault on India’s Muslim citizens and residents, as well as on refugees and Muslim migrants from neighboring nations. By using the CAA and the National Register of Citizens, a proposed roster of India’s legal citizens, the BJP government looks to disenfranchise Muslim migrants and Indigenous communities in its northeastern state of Assam, along with millions of others across the subcontinent who do not possess sufficient documentation.