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By Kiren Zehra Rizvi, NJ 21 Sep. 2019, Exclusive for TIO: It was a sweltering, sunny day in mid-September, only the third week into the Fall semester and the city of New Brunswick was bustling with students for the upcoming Rutgers football game against Boston College. However, among the red of Scarlet Knights, a small crowd of New Brunswick students, elders, and families with children began to gather wearing sanguine red for a bleeding Kashmir. They planted themselves outside the steps of New Brunswick City Hall on Bayard Street, chanting for a free Kashmir. It would be only a matter of hours before Prime Minister Modi would fly into Texas for a monumental “Howdy Modi” rally, to be celebrated by Trump and the American people while the people of Kashmir are held under lockdown.
The rally to stand with Kashmir with co-sponsored by the Council of American-Islamic Relations of New Jersey (CAIR-NJ), #Stand with Kashmir, #Sikhs for Justice, #Jewish Voice for Peace, #Central NJ Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), #Black Lives Matter, the New Brunswick Islamic Center, the Islamic Center of Old Bridge, and Anakbayan of Rutgers University, along with other allies.
#Mashal Baksh Anjum, of Stand with Kashmir, leads the crowd in chanting for a free Kashmir. Next, Sarwat Malik-Hassan of NJ DSA condemned the acts of injustice by the Indian government in Kashmir, and affirmed that “freedom is a basic human right, and when anyone is deprived of it, we
will rise for them: whether it is Kashmir, Palestine, Rohingya [in Myanmar], or South Africa.”
Next, Rob from Anakbayan of Rutgers University stood in solidarity with the people of Kashmir as an ally. They compared the plight of true liberation for
the Filipino people under the fascist regime of
Duterte and the struggles for freedom of the occupied people of Kashmir, noting the parallels of murders and unexplained disappearances of activists in both groups. They affirm that
Anakbayan stands in firm solidarity with Kashmiri’s struggle for self-determination, and condemn Trump’s attempts to erase the struggle of the Kashmiri people by praising Modi’s role in the conflict. Modi arrived in the US on Saturday, to be welcomed at a historic “Howdy Modi” Texas rally. Upon arriving, he defends his decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, stating it was for “the best interests of the residents”.
Also, Read: What the Indian media failed to show
Next, speakers talked about the importance of Article 370 and Article 35, and how its removal was a direct attack on the people of
Kashmir as it eliminated Kashmir’s special status in the Indian Constitution. Not only is this an attack on Kashmir, but it is also an attack on democracy itself. The removal
of Article 370 was an act of fascism, and the Kashmiri struggle is inherently an anti-fascist struggle. Fascism is not limited to Modi in Kashmir or to Donald Trump in the US, fascism thrives in Israel, the Philippines, in Pakistan, and in Saudi Arabia. There is no true democracy when activists, politics, and youth are being jailed, attacked, murdered, and are disappearing.
Next, John Wani, of Stand with Kashmir, an organizer who also has family in the region, took to the microphone to condemn the human rights violations being perpetrated by the Indian government. He urged elected officials to condemn these atrocities including the abrogation of Article 370, the stripping of Kashmiri self-determination, enforced military curfew under occupation, mass arrests of leaders and activists, as well as a forty-day long blackout in which Kashmir is isolated from the world.
Standing in Solidarity with the people of Kashmir included Sikh activist Gagan Kaur, who reaffirmed that the conflict of Kashmir is not an isolated act of terror in the subcontinent: she recounted stories of her community’s persecution in Punjab and their right to keep their identity. She stood firmly in solidarity with Kashmir.
Then, Sami Katovic of the New Brunswick Islamic Center further advised the crowd that this was not the first time the Indian government, or even Modi himself has perpetrated these acts against humanity. He reminded us of the events of Gujarat, citing the distribution of new textbooks of revisionist histories. He pointed out the irony of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation honoring Modi with an award for his Clean India campaign which has built 100 million new toilets in India for the past five years, while Modi has been massacring groups of peoples across India and perpetrating acts of genocide.
After that, Shevone Torres, a community organizer from New Jersey’s Black Lives Matter, commended the crowd for standing today for the Kashmiri struggle, and as “one historically oppressed group to another”, reminded them to keep strong as the fight for justice and freedom is often a long one. She then chose to uplift a Kashmiri voice, reading the account of a Kashmiri girl who faced violence at the hands of the Indian army. She concluded her speech by affirming that Black Lives Matter stands in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, and they will fight with them for justice.
Shortly after, Sudip Bhattacharya, co-chair of the central NJ DSA emphasized that though Kashmir may be isolated from the world, “the issues causing and taking place in Kashmir are the same of those in Gaza, in the Amazon in Brazil, in Pakistan, in Flint, Michigan, in Newark, New Jersey, and here in New Brunswick, New Jersey”. The stripping of Kashmiri rights is part of a much bigger system of Indian settler-colonialism. He condemned these forces of right-wing authoritarianism that are growing stronger in these places and lead to these patterns of oppression. He affirmed that if we want to build a better world, we have to build it through socialism, and in turn, build it through internationalism– that is, how we can establish a path of democracy, justice, and self-determination. This can be done by organizing against forces that aim to keep their privilege and power at the expense of the people.
While the Rally to Stand with Kashmir did have a much bigger turnout than expected, there is still a multitude of work to be done. Those who could not attend the protest, and even protesters themselves, were asked to share po
sts with the #StandwithKashmir. The day after the protest, Indian Prime Minister Modi was warmly welcomed in Texas for the “Howdy, Modi!” rally by US President Donald Trump, while Kashmir has entered its 49th day of military occupation and blackout.
Protests to Stand with Kashmir will be happening all over Tri-State area in the coming days to protest Trump’s reluctance to condemn Modi’s blatant human rights abuses, Modi’s award being presented to him by the Gates Foundation, and for the international world to recognize Kashmir’s autonomous status. On September 27th from 10:30 to 3 pm, a protest will be held outside the United Nations building in New York City in opposition of India’s renewed oppression of Kashmir. The protest is organized by NJ CAIR, ICNA Council for Social Justice, and the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) at the UN’s location at 47th Street and 1st Ave in New York City.
Share this post using the hashtag, #StandWithKashmir!
Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, Photos Credit Kiren Zehra Rizvi & Syed Imtiaz Ali