At a recent rally on 15 August, marking both 72 years of India’s independence from colonial rule and the tenth consecutive day of a state-imposed communication blackout in Kashmir, Kashmiri students and members of the South Asian diaspora protested the Modi government’s recent actions in Kashmir. In particular, the abrogation of Article 370 which until now protected the region’s ‘special status’.
The protest, which was co-organised by multiple groups, including student groups from SOAS and KCL, the South Asia Solidarity Group (SASG), and the Kashmir Solidarity Movement drew an estimated turnout of around a thousand people according to SOAS student and organiser Ayesha Minhaz,.
The protestors declared 10 demands ahead of their demonstration, including ending armed occupation, the holding of a people’s plebiscite, and the restoration of communication lines of communication between the two countries as well as for the free press.
The group will next be reaching out to MPs across the UK. They anticipated this at the rally by circulating QR codes to the crowd which, upon scanning, generated an email template for people to customise and send to their local representatives.
Kashmiri students were at the forefront of the event. Mariyeh Parveen, a SOAS student from India occupied Kashmir led chants for ‘Azaadi’, ‘or’, freedom. “We don’t know what’s going on.” She said “There is no internet, no telephone lines. Even if I wanted to write a letter home I can’t,”. Mariyeh wants to ensure that no one overlooks the plight of Kashmiris from the territory occupied by India. “It’s not a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Our main aim is to bring international recognition to the indigenous struggle.”
In keeping with the pattern observed by Mariyeh, there were repeated attempts to drown out Kashmiri voices at the protest. At one point, a section of protestors separated from the main rally and chanted for the accession of the entire contested region of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan.
By the end, and only after calls for a ‘dua’ – a prayer in the name of Kashmiris separated from their loved ones – did the the two rallies hesitantly come together again. SOAS India Society later said they were “deeply disappointed” by this conduct. “The protest saw the physical abuse of a Kashmiri student, the heckling of protesters, the harassment of women and the creation of a sense of confrontation within the protest,” they said in a statement on their Facebook page.
“We don’t want this solidarity movement to become yet another platform for Indians and Pakistanis to fight it out,” agreed Ayesha.
SASG also criticised the “hijacking” of the protest in a tweet, reiterating the demand of the protestors that “only Kashmiris determine their future.”
London’s Green Party MEP Scott Ainsley was also present at the rally out of solidarity and underlined the right to self-determination in his speech. “It is time to put an end to the decades of violence and human rights suffered by the inhabitants of Kashmir, and the decisions by India to unilaterally end the rights of Kashmiris is deeply disturbing and should be called out,” he said in a statement prior to the protest.
Taranjeet Chana, who represented the GMB workers union at the protest, also reiterated “This is not democracy. It’s unjust, it’s illegal, it’s totalitarianism at its worst. We stand with you Kashmir.”