B.C. residents fear for relatives in Kashmir as phones, internet in region go dead

As tensions between India and Pakistan continue over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, relatives in B.C. are worried about family members there who they have been cut off from contacting them.

Kashmir has been disputed by India, Pakistan and China since 1947. The Indian-controlled area of Jammu and Kashmir, which is part of the wider region of Kashmir, has been in lockdown since India’s decision to strip it of constitutional autonomy last week. 

The 12 million people living in Jammu and Kashmir currently do not have access to phone and internet, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the world.

It’s worrying for B.C. residents with ties to the region, who have not been able to contact their loved ones during Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival of sacrifice.

“It’s been a very tough time,” said Manzoor Wani, who, along with his wife Fouzia Qasim, has parents and siblings in Kashmir.

They say they’re finding it hard to celebrate Eid al-Adha, which is known for bringing families together.

“Celebration to me means to connect with my parents, to connect with my brothers and sisters by phone. When there’s this blockade, how on Earth am I supposed to know if they’re doing well?” Qasim wondered.

The couple say they haven’t heard from their relatives in more than a week.

People chant slogans during a rally expressing solidarity with the people of Kashmir, in Karachi, Pakistan on Aug. 6. (Fayaz Aziz/Reuters)

M.V. Ramana, who studies the region at the UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs says there is widespread unrest and protests in the region.

“The people in Kashmir are, of course, extremely unhappy about this,” he said, adding that the Indian government has sent in thousands of troops to try to keep law and order.

Auzeb Manzoor, a former Kashmir resident, says the unrest in Kashmir is ‘unprecedented.’ (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Auzeb Manzoor, a former resident of Kashmir now living in B.C., says India has taken a unilateral decision of changing the fate of Kashmiri people without consulting them.

“What’s happened right now is unprecedented, I’ve never seen this before in my lifetime,” he said about the unrest.

Manzoor was married in Kashmir last year and has been trying to call his parents there for the past few days without success.

“I’m really scared and worried about the future of the Kashmiri nation and its people,” he said.

An Indian paramilitary soldier orders a Kashmiri to lift his robe before frisking him during curfew in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir on Aug. 8. Last week the Indian government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, downgrading it from a state to a territory. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press)

The Canadian government says it is following developments in Jammu and Kashmir.

Ramana says that outside nations are being cautious because of India’s large economy and potential for trade.

But Wani and Qasim hope that Canada will take up a bigger role in fighting for human rights in the area.

They, along with others with Kashmiri roots, plan to protest outside of Vancouver’s Indian Consulate on Thursday.

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