British Columbia

Vancouver Kashmiris march to raise awareness of conflicts with India

Dozens of protesters marched in downtown Vancouver in front of the Indian consulate Thursday to show their support for people living in India-run Kashmir.

Some B.C. residents with family in the area say they have not been able to make contact since last week

Vancouver protesters line up in support of Kashmir. The Indian-controlled area of the region has been under lockdown since Aug. 4. (CBC)

Protesters in Vancouver marched in front of the Indian consulate Thursday to show support for people living in India-run Kashmir. 

Both India and Pakistan administer portions of Kashmir. A lockdown in Indian-administered Kashmir has been in place since Aug. 4, just before India's Hindu nationalist government revoked the special status of the portion of Muslim-majority Kashmir it controls on Aug. 5. 

Telephone lines, internet and television networks were blocked, and the government withdrew the state's right to frame its own laws and allowed non-residents to buy property there.

Thursday's protest coincided with Indian Independence Day.

Protesters line the street in front of the Indian consulate in Vancouver, B.C. on August 15, 2019. (CBC)

Manzoor Wani, one of the protesters in Vancouver, said it is still difficult to keep in touch with family living in the region.

"Right now, it's feeling very unsure, nervous because we don't know the family how they're coping," Wani said.

"We just want to hear their voice. We keep calling every day, several times a day just to make sure maybe things have changed, maybe I can hear my mom's voice, my dad's voice."

A protester marches in front of the Indian consulate in Vancouver, B.C., on August 15, 2019. (CBC)

In a speech Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said stripping the disputed Kashmir region of its statehood and special constitutional provisions has helped unify the country.

"Kashmiris had their entire independence stripped away and it's just [ironic] that India and the citizens are celebrating independence while 12 million people have been locked in an open air prison," said Jasim Khan, an organizer of the rally who lived on the Indian side of Kashmir until he was a teenager. He now resides in Vancouver.

Hotly contested region

Issues in the region are complex. Since 1947, Kashmir has been disputed by three countries: India, Pakistan and China. 

For India, Kashmir's strategic location acts as a large buffer between Pakistan and China, said Chin Bannerjee, a Kashmiri and president of the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy. 

Bannerjee said Indian control of Muslim-majority Kashmir has been tenuous. Tens of thousands of people have died in clashes between militants and civilian protesters and Indian security forces since 1989.

Jasim Khan, an organizer of the rally who lived on the Indian side of Kashmir until he was a teenager, said life in India's section of Kashmir was intense. It was common to see the Indian military on every street and have to find cover because of artillery fire.

"I feel like a global citizen because I've lived in so many different countries and continents, but that's specifically for me," said Khan, who now lives in Vancouver.

 But if you were to take an average Kashmiri young adult like myself, they would identify themselves as Kashmiri [not Indian]," he said.

Jasim Khan visiting Kashmir in 2017. Khan moved to Vancouver in 2018. (Submitted by Jasim Khan)

Khan says Kashmiris have little affiliation with the rest of the subcontinent, including India.

"Our language is different. Our culture is different. We are geographically separated by the mountains," said Khan.

Listen to CBC producer Rohit Joseph's segment on Kashmir on The Early Edition here:

With files from the Associated Press, Laura Sciarpelletti, and Rohit Joseph