Sahana Mehta SCR ’20 & Noor Dhingra PO ’20
Sept. 26, Vol. XXIX, Issue 1
On Walker Wall, a message reads, “Free Kashmir! Free Palestine! Right to Self Determination.” Less than ten feet away, at the Pomona Women’s Union, a documentary shows the Kashmir valley flooded with military personnel.
On Thursday, Sept. 19, a group of over 50 students and faculty members at the Claremont Colleges crowded into Pomona’s Women’s Union for Stand with Kashmir: Claremont, an event focused on raising awareness about the current military siege in Kashmir. The event was organized by Noor Dhingra PO ’20, Sahana Mehta ’20, and Priya Prabhakar ’20, who also hosted “Claremont Says No To War and the Occupation of Kashmir,” an event at Scripps in Spring 2019.
On Aug 5, the Indian government deployed thousands of additional troops to the widely disputed and highly militarized region of Kashmir, which is currently controlled by three nuclear powers: India, Pakistan, and China. Since the creation of the Indian and Pakistani nation-states in 1947, Kashmiris have struggled to reclaim their autonomy. At the time of Partition, Kashmiris were promised an advisory referendum to self-determine whether they would join India, Pakistan, or create their own autonomous state. The referendum was never held. However, certain basic rights were upheld until the repeal of Article 370, a law which gave the Kashmiris a degree of autonomy. One of the most significant aspects of Article 370 was that it banned non-Kashmiris from owning land in Kashmir, therefore allowing indigenous Kashmiris to remain on their land without being pushed out by those eager to buy land in the famously beautiful region. Since Aug. 5, the region has been under complete blackout—including cellular services, landlines and internet. Journalists have been imprisoned for trying to accurately cover Kashmir. The valley is categorically under siege. The abrogation of Article 370 was the last straw on the camel’s back for Kashmiris, and hopefully, for the international community as well.
Since Aug. 5, the transnational “Stand with Kashmir” movement has taken off. The main organizers of this movement are diasporic Kashmiris. Despite the diasporic Kashmiri population being rather small, their impact has been significant. In cities all across the world, protests, teach-ins and other events have been held in solidarity with the Stand with Kashmir movement. To educate our peers and demonstrate solidarity with Kashmir, we decided to host an event for students at the Claremont Colleges to learn more about, and take action against, the occupation and siege in Kashmir.
During the event, the group watched two short documentaries that provided basic history about Kashmir and revealed the on-the-ground realities: closed roads, deserted mosques on Eid, abandoned schools.
After watching the documentaries, the group was able to chat electronically with two Kashmiri activists who have been involved in Kashmir’s struggle for liberation. Muzzammil Ayyub Thakur, Director of the Justice Foundation—Kashmir Institute of International Affairs, spoke first. Thakur spoke with attendees about his work to support Kashmir in international arenas, as well as his experiences and observations during his trips to Kashmir. Thakur told the audience a heart-wrenching story about a young girl he met who was rendered mute due to the trauma she endured at the hands of Indian soldiers. Before logging off, Thakur left us to consider that the world said “never again,” after the Holocaust, and again after the Rwandan Genocide. It is now time for us to recognize the signs of genocide and speak up about Kashmir. He urged the group to use our new knowledge and join in the Kashmiri struggle.
Anqa Khan, the second speaker, is a New York City-based activist and researcher. Khan spoke with us about the Stand with Kashmir movement, with a specific focus on the campaign to demand that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rescind their Global Goals Award from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While the award claims to honor those who “tackle the issues contributing to global inequity,” Modi has been a fierce proponent of Hindu Nationalism for decades and was even been banned from the United States for his actions against Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat. Khan pushed the group to think critically about how the philanthropic world remains complicit in Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, as demonstrated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leadership turning a blind eye to the violence Modi has enabled. Following Khan’s talk, the group reconvened to discuss action items it can pursue going forward, even from the so-called “Claremont bubble.”
Action items included pushing for journalistic attention on Kashmir, calling the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to request they rescind PM Modi’s award, and participating in social media campaigns on Kashmir.
After two information-packed hours, attendees left knowing more about the occupation of Kashmir and equipped with new strategies to affect change in the region. If you’re reading this, we urge you to #StandWithKashmir.
Image Credit: Web.pk