Nfld. & Labrador

Kashmiri family in St. John's worried amid rising tensions in home state

A Kashmiri family in St. John's is worried about life at home as tensions continue to grow between Pakistan and India, who both lay claim to the area.

The Qureshi family has had no contact with friends or relatives in Kashmir for two weeks

Yaqoob Qureshi and Nabila Qureshi are Kashmiris who came to Canada in 2007. (Ted Blades/CBC)

A Kashmiri family in St. John's is worried about life at home as tensions continue to grow between Pakistan and India, who both lay claim to an area which Kashmiris see as their own.   

Yaqoob Qureshi and his daughter Nabila Qureshi moved to Canada in 2007, and have been in St. John's since 2008.

The family hasn't been able to contact friends or relatives in Kashmir, which has a population of roughly 12 million people, since August 5.

That's when the Indian government cut off all communication between there and the outside world, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his government was ending Indian-controlled Kashmir's special status as a semi-autonomous region.

The radio silence from friends and family includes Yaqoob's mother, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, someone who Yaqoob said he calls every day. 

"Three weeks prior to August 5, the Indian government flew in almost 50,000 extra troops into Kashmir, which is on top of the, some estimates say 600,000, some people say 700,000 troops who are in Jammu and Kashmir for the last many decades," Yaqoob told CBC Radio's On The Go.  

The government also clamped a curfew on the entire state and added a law banning gatherings of more than four people in one place.

Indian security forces personnel patrol a deserted street during restrictions after the government scrapped special status for Kashmir, in Srinagar. (Danish Ismail/Reuters)

Yaqoob said Kashmir is the most militarized region in the world, well ahead of North Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, because it borders on India, Pakistan and China, which have a long history of dispute over the area.

Roughly 100,000 people have been killed since 1989, he said.

Utopian dream

Yaqoob hopes that one day Kashmir will become its own state. He calls it a utopian dream, but it's a dream he hopes his children get to experience.

However, he is also realistic, adding that it could take as many as three to five generations before that happens. However, he said, it's inevitable. 

"Let Kashmiris decide. That's the thing. We have nothing against Indian people. We are against the current regime which has imposed these barbaric sanctions or have taken away our rights," he said. 

"I don't want to be a part of Pakistan or India. Let us live independently and take care of our own affairs and our own fate. Let us see how it works."

Nabila hopes to visit her home again, too.

She has fond memories of her childhood, and hopes happiness in the region can be achieved.

Mostly she hopes to not have to defend her home against her Indian counterparts, saying anything she posts on social media is usually open to comments from people who she calls friends with a pro-India stance. 

"I want to be able to just exist among my Indian friends, because right now a lot of them are quite obviously disagreeing with my stance on the matter," she said.

For now the Qureshis, one of three Kashmiri families living in Newfoundland, have to sit and wait as news from their home continues to travel overseas — but not back in the other direction to them.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go