Anti-Modi protesters make presence felt at rally

Updated September 23, 2019

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HOUSTON: Pakistanis and Kashmiris gather for a protest against India’s policy on occupied Kashmir on Sunday. — Dawn
HOUSTON: Pakistanis and Kashmiris gather for a protest against India’s policy on occupied Kashmir on Sunday. — Dawn

PAKISTANIS, Kashmiris and Sikhs living in the United States converged on Houston, Texas, on Sunday to express their indignation with the Indian prime minister over the scrapping of occupied Kashmir’s special status and excesses committed by Delhi’s law enforcement agencies against minorities.

Narendra Modi arrived in Houston on Saturday to attend a rally, titled “Howdy Modi” — a Texan cliché — at which President Donald Trump, too, made an appearance.

As I walked towards the venue, it was still dark outside, but activists from various groups were itching for a signal to start marching towards the NRG Stadium. Thousands of activists and citizens from all over Texas had gathered in Houston over the weekend to prepare and mobilise for the demonstration against Modi.

According to the Alliance for Justice and Accounta­bility, Azaad Austin, Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Black Lives Matter, who held a press conference on Saturday, Modi’s visit and Trump’s decision to attend it was aimed at mobilising votes of the largest Indian diaspora for the Republican Party.

Since Trump is the cherry on top of the saffron pie, this means intensive security arrangements were made, with most streets cordoned off.

Within the hour, the dozens of flags become hundreds and over the next two hours, easily thousands of people had lined the barriers separating the protesters from those walking towards the stadium to hear the Indian prime minister’s speech.

A day earlier, at a press conference held to mobilise protesters, journalist Peter Fredriech shared the history of the RSS and how it was inspired by Germany’s Nazi party. A member of CAIR said: “Our ancestors chose to remain in India at the time of partition, but what Modi is doing right now is taking India towards a scary fascist direction.”

As Modi started his speech, outside the stadium the fervour and anger of thousands of Indians, Pakistanis, white allies and supporters of all races and nationalities is palpable.

Fareena, a resident of Hou­ston, said she wasn’t with any group or rights organisation. “Just a concerned desi who wants to raise awareness about what’s happening in Kashmir. We need to get rid of Trump and Modi,” she said.

“The voice of Kashmiris has been throttled because of the media ban. There’s no access to life-saving medicine or even food,” said Raja Muzafar of the Kashmir Global Council.

Holding a poster that reads `Free Kashmir’, he said: “I’m attending to demand an independent Kashmir. The thousands of Kashmiri flags here in solidarity shows that the world is with Kashmiris.”

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2019