Kashmiri American Community Protests Indian Atrocities in Chicago
Chicago, IL: They came by the hundreds from neighborhoods across the metro area: women pushing strollers, toddlers clutching their fathers’ hands, teenagers and elders marching arm in arm, with one central demand -- an end to the occupying Indian army’s worst torrent of violent repression in Kashmir in decades.
The protesters marched in the blistering heat down Chicago’s most iconic promenade, Michigan Avenue, on Sunday, from the trendy stretch of the Mag Mile that begins at the Tribune Tower to Congress Avenue a mile south and back, handing out flyers to shoppers and tourists with little knowledge of Kashmir’s occupation and the most recent round of atrocities.
The photos on that flyer were chilling , documenting incidents of beatings, targeted maiming, torture and extrajudicial executions that have scarred the region since early July. These kinds of human rights violations characterize daily life under Indian occupation in the region, say protesters, who chanted for freedom from Indian military brutality and an end to an occupation that spans nearly 70 years.
Speakers included JavedRathore, chair of the Kashmir Solidarity Council, along with Amir Mukhtar Faize YasinChohan, Raja Yaqoob, DrInam, Manal Pundat, Umar Khan, Uzma Zulfiqar, and Fahd Khan.
“Kashmir is completely under siege, with a savage curfew imposed by India that has now lasted for over 50 days,” said Rathore. “More than ninety people have been killed in the last seven weeks, and hundreds have been blinded by use of pellet guns alone, with more than 4,000 badly injured by Indian troops.”
Protesters decried what they describe as a ‘cold-blooded’ silence among Western human rights organizations and media outlets since the latest round of repression began, although some Western outlets have begun to provide limited coverage of the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
India has imposed a complete media blackout in Kashmir, with little coming out except social media reports.India’s state-sponsored violence has occurred largely within this media black-out, as India’s right-wing government has blocked all TV channels in the region, restricted reporters’ mobility and shut down internet and mobile phone access in the region, while the Indian army has ordered the burning of all copies of newspapers in the Valley. Even Facebook came under fire last month for participating in India’s censorship.
Protesters are appealing to human rights organizations and the international press to go to Kashmir and cover the desperate daily realities of ordinary Kashmiris -- what they describe as a moral and professional responsibility to put a spotlight on the little-covered humanitarian disaster and an ongoing wave of brutal repression in the contested region. Many of those injured confront a terrible fate -- the loss of their eyesight, since troops have been shooting at protesters’ faces with ‘non-lethal’ pellet guns.
“India has two faces,” says Rathore. “One is its public face for the Western world -- and the other is the face of a rightwing extremist government represented by the prime minister of India himself, who was directly implicated in the killing of thousands of Muslims in the state of Gujarat , a horror he is repeating today in Kashmir.”
For years, the US government denied Indian prime minister Naradra Modi a visa to enter the country because of his failure to quell ultra-nationalist Hindu violence in 2002 in Gujarat, which Modi governed at the time. Carnage , including mass rape and murder, were wielded largely against Gujarat’s Muslims by rioters allied with Modi’s political movement.
Sunday’s protesters content that Kashmir is typically erroneously covered as a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, when the real issue is freedom for Kashmir’s 120 million people, who’ve lived under Indian military occupation since 1947 despite a spate of UN resolutions declaring the right of Kashmiris to decide their governance for themselves.
And they argue that India’s occupation hurts not just Kashmiris but people, drives suffering in India and Pakistan, as well, where 70% of the people of both countries live in poverty, while both countries spend huge resources on building and maintaining deadly armaments and huge armies -- including an Indian occupation army in Kashmir of 800,000 troops.
Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, and the occupation of Kashmir has often brought both nations to war.
“Solving the issue of Kashmir and ending the occupation is of crucial concern for the wellbeing of all people in South Asia, as well as the people of Kashmir,” says Rothore.
Protesters say it’s critical that the UN Secretary General and President Obama begin to play a more assertive and positive role in addressing the urgency of the current situation in Kashmir, and convene a UN Security Council meeting to defuse the current crisis and finally move to convene a democratic plebiscite in Kashmir to decide the future of the region. India has ignored UN calls for a plebiscite among Kashmiri residents for decades.
Kashmir solidarity supporters plan to convene demonstrations and protests in Washington and New York to draw attention to the ongoing human rights crisis in Kashmir.
The Chicago protesters are asking people concerned about human rights to contact their US senators and congressional representatives, along with the Indian Consul General in Chicago and India’s ambassador in Washington, and urge an end to military violence and occupation in the region.