Small protest slams India over Kashmir - Queens Chronicle: Western Queens News

Small protest slams India over Kashmir

by Anthony O’Reilly, Chronicle Contributor | Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2019 10:30 am

Standing in Jackson Height’s Diversity Plaza last Friday, Jahangir Kabir warned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he was planting the seeds for a potentially violent Kashmiri uprising.

“When your back is against the wall, you’re really not going anywhere,” Kabir, executive director of the Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group, later told a Chronicle reporter. “You’re either going to be totally wiped off the map, or you’re going to march forward.”

He said he’s confident that 14 million Kashmiris would pick the latter option. “They’re not just going to be banished from the Earth,” he said, “they’re going to move forward.”

Kabir was one of more than two dozen advocates who stood in Diversity Plaza to protest India’s crackdown on Kashmir, a territory that until Aug. 5 had been semiautonomous since 1947. Earlier this month, Modi’s Hindu nationalist government revoked the constitutional amendment that allowed the Indian-controlled parts Kashmir — Pakistan controls other parts — to act as an independent state, along with severing telephone and internet lines and closing schools.

Modi’s move to effectively cancel the constitutional amendment giving Kashmir autonomy, known as Article 370, has been viewed as a deliberate attack against Muslims, who make up the majority of the Kashmiri population.

“It’s the idea of ethnic cleansing, where you’re trying to erase the identity and history of the native population to bring in a foreign population to change the demographic,” said Raja Abdulhaq, executive director of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York. By canceling Article 370, Modi suspended a law barring people from outside the state from buying Kashmiri property and displacing Muslims.

Abdulhaq likened it to the Israeli military takeover of Palestinian land. “We have a foreign occupier that comes into the land, tries to displace the indigenous people, the natives, to make space for a new population to steal the land,” Abdulhaq, who is of Palestinian descent, said.

Although the revocation of Article 370 brought tensions to a boiling point, Kashmiris have clashed with Indian authorities many times in the past. Numerous Indian troops have been accused of raping and killing Kashmiris throughout the years, including in 2016 when protests broke out following the killing of pro-Pakistani figurehead Burhan Wani by Indian troops.

At that time, phone lines and internet service were cut, too. However, Modi’s Aug. 5 decision to cut Kashmir’s line to the outside world was not preceded by such unrest. The Indian government also jailed prominent Kashmiri politicians and deployed thousands of troops into the state’s streets before its announcement to revoke Article 370 was made public.

Abdur Howladar, senior vice president of the Elmhurst-based Bangladeshi Society, Inc., called for all in Jackson Heights to pray for Kashmir’s liberation. “You don’t have to be a Muslim, you don’t have to be Hindu, you don’t have to be of any faith,” he shouted to the crowd. “You just have to be human to support the Kashmiris.”

His speech was cut off by a passerby who shouted “Lies, all lies,” to which Howladar shouted, “This is what’s happening in Kashmir.” A Chronicle reporter could not catch up with the passerby, who was the only one throughout the rally to raise any objection to the protesters. Otherwise, the crowd spent much of the night chanting, without interruption, “Hey hey, ho ho, Indian occupation has to go” and “What do we want? Freedom. When do we want it? Now.”

India in recent days has promised to loosen its hold of Kashmir, but the protesters didn’t seem convinced Modi was being honest.

“Anything that comes from the Modi government, I don’t trust it,” Kabir said. “Their agenda is simple: Build India as a Hindu nationalist government.”