Candlelight vigil in London marks two-month lockdown in held Kashmir

Published October 6, 2019
Scores of British Kashmiris in London gathered at Parliament Square on Saturday for a candlelight vigil for the thousands living under siege in India-held Kashmir. — AP/File
Scores of British Kashmiris in London gathered at Parliament Square on Saturday for a candlelight vigil for the thousands living under siege in India-held Kashmir. — AP/File

LONDON: Scores of British Kashmiris in London gathered at Parliament Square on Saturday for a candlelight vigil for the thousands living under siege in India-held Kashmir.

October 5 marked two months from the date that the Indian government removed held-Kashmir’s special status by revoking Article 370.

Hundreds of pro-Kashmir demonstrators carried placards and shouted slogans of “what do we want? Freedom!”.

The crowd marched by Downing Street and Trafalgar Square shouting slogans en route to the Indian High Commission in Aldwych, a routine destination for pro-Kashmir demonstrators who want to register their protest with the Indian government.

Carrying placards, demonstrators shout slogans of ‘what do we want? Freedom!’

Organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the event was attended by British Kashmiris from London’s southern towns Luton, Watford and Croydon.

“I have come to every protest and will continue to do so. I even wanted to go to New York to raise the Kashmir issue,” said an elderly gentleman Mohammad Yaqub, who lives in the Midlands.

The Kashmiri diaspora in the United Kingdom has been active in raising awareness about human rights violations in occupied Valley by turning up in large numbers in rallies and demonstrations across cities.

Occupied Kashmir has been under a communications blackout for two months since the Narendra Modi-led government revoked Article 370 on Aug 5, stripping the disputed region of its special status. The few accounts emerging from the occupied region speak of families living under curfew, with some reports saying Indian forces torture activists and commit excesses against protesters.

Students recall shock

In conversations with Dawn ahead of the two-month mark to the curfew, Kashmiri students in London described how they felt when they heard the news that the Indian government had revoked Article 370.

“Is it okay if I don’t share my name? I’m nervous because I have to go back to India and I don’t want to be targeted,” Kashmiri student M* said. M’s family lives in Srinagar, which is where she lived till she came to the University of London for higher education.

“In the beginning we were in a state of shock and disbelief. It’s not that we had an illusion of trust in the Indian government, but we didn’t foresee them taking such a drastic and unprecedented step.”

M says the first few days after Aug 5 were “absolute chaos” and that the limited information coming was from India, where the media was portraying that people in Kashmir are happy.

“As Kashmiris, we know that is not the case.”

M added that communication with her parents has been limited as mobile networks are blocked. At times, they manage to use a neighbour’s landline phone to make a call to her but they are guarded and fearful as they assume the phone is tapped

“In Kashmiri we ask ‘halaat kiche?’ (how is the situation). People say don’t ask this on the phone, for if someone says things are fine they will become worse. Even if my family is fine, I know that there are thousands of families who are not fine.”

Kashmiri lawyer Mirza Saib Beg, who is pursuing his LLM in London, says: “For 45 days, I did not speak to my family. My friends were able to communicate with their families only if their relatives stood in line to make a call from a police station. The conversations were happening before an intelligence officer or a policeman and you had to limit to a minute.”

He added: “International calls were not getting through to landlines. A friend of mine went to my family, recorded their voices on a pen drive and sent it out to Delhi. A friend of mine in Delhi uploaded that recording and sent it to me. That’s how I heard my family for the first time.”

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2019

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