Large crowd rallies in support of locked down Kashmir at California state Capitol

Nine days into the military lockdown of Indian-administered Kashmir, around 300 people rallied at the state Capitol on Tuesday in support of those living in India’s only Muslim-majority state.

People joined the Capitol rally during their lunch hour under the searing heat. Children in strollers, mothers and elderly community members held hand-drawn signboards that read “Stop Oppression in Kashmir,” “Free Kashmir” and “End this Fascist Nonsense.” Some waved small flags of Pakistan.

Javaid Akhtar, a Kashmir Action Committee member and rally organizer, said the humanitarian crisis is unfolding with the brutal military lockdown and curfew.

“Communication with the outside world is cut off,” he said. “It is a volcano about to erupt. The world needs to pay attention now.”

Little has been known about Kashmir’s population of 13 million people since the Indian government started to remove the special autonomous status. Mobile phones and landlines are all down.

Kashmir has been a center of conflict between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed countries, since the 1947 partition of British India. The British separated their former colony into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Kashmir, wedged between both countries, was divided and sought after by the two nations.

Kashmir agreed to join the Indian union under the condition of having a special autonomous status, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The Indian government revoked its special status this month.

On Friday, the Indian police fired tear gas at protesters in Srinagar, the biggest city in Kashmir, as thousands of people demonstrated for Kashmiri Independence.

Dr. Manejeh Jahan, a Kashmiri American, has not been able to contact her parents since the internet blackout.

“My father is a chronic kidney disease patient and he needs dialysis treatment twice a week,“ Jahan said. “I have no idea whether he is getting to his dialysis treatment or not. The thought process is killing us here. We are not able to sleep, we are not able to do our regular business everyday, we are not able to focus on our work.”

“As American Muslims we are too familiar with this reality, right here at home,” said Dr. Mohamed Abdul-Azeez, founder of the Tarbiya Institute, a Muslim community organization based in Roseville. “We are being targeted for our Muslim identity, so we are able to identify and relate to the struggle of our brothers and sisters in Kashmir as these events unfold.”

“If we remain silent, this carnage will continue and it will get worse,” he said.

Ammar Ansari, a sophomore at UC Berkeley, also spoke at the rally.

“As a descendant of Pakistani parents,” Ansari said, “I thought it was important to raise awareness of a crisis close to home – and talk about its effect on democracies around the world today.”

The next step is to reach out to elected officials and ask them to raise the issue of Kashmir in the United Nations to ensure Kashmir has “the right of self-determination in accordance with the United Nation resolutions,” said Sabir Ahmad, member of the Kashmir Action Committee and Pakistan American Association of Sacramento.

“We want their (Kashmiris) internet to immediately be restored and the United States government to put pressure to Indian government to end the siege of Kashmir people,” Ahmad said. “So that the ill people can go to hospital and get treated and children can go to school.”

“You don’t have to be Muslim to care about Kashmir,” said Oussama Mokeddem, Programs and Outreach Coordinator of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Sacramento Valley.

“You don’t have to be Kashmiri to write your elected representatives. You just have to be human. These are our brothers and sisters in humanity. And a threat to their freedom is a threat to our freedom.”

The Kashmir Action Committee, Pakistan American Association of Sacramento, American Muslim Voice, Pakistan American Sports and Cultural Organization, Islamic Circle of North America, and the Sacramento Valley office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SV) took part in the rally.

Theodora Yu covers Asian American issues for The Sacramento Bee. She is a Hong Kong native and a Columbia Journalism School alumna with an interest in immigration and climate change issues.