As people in Philly marked India’s 73rd year of independence with a festival at Penn’s Landing on Saturday, a protest briefly interrupted the celebrations.
Organized by the Philadelphia South Asian Collective, the local demonstration was held in solidarity with those that have broken out nightly in the Kashmir valley since the beginning of the month.
At the heart of the matter is the manner in which the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narenda Modi, revoked Article 370 of its Constitution. That move stripped the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir of a special status that had granted semi-autonomy for the past 70 years.
On Aug. 5, the Indian government deployed thousands of troops in Kashmir to handle any possible unrest. The military enforced indefinite curfews and cut off all means of communications in Kashmir, including access to the internet.
The local protest on Aug. 17 had a peak attendance of around 150 people from various backgrounds, ethnicities and nationalities from the Philadelphia and South Jersey region. Many folks were Kashmiris residing in the U.S. or Indian Americans of Kashmiri heritage. It’s been nearly two weeks since many have been able to communicate with their families in Kashmir.
Lasting just over an hour and a half, the rally was a peaceful proceeding. People changed anti-fascist, anti-occupation, anti-Modi and “Azaadi” (freedom) slogans. Some were also seen waving Azad Kashmir flags.
Protesters in Philadelphia also raised their voices against the house arrests of key Kashmiri leaders. Two former chief ministers and one member of parliament, including the well-known progressive politicians Farooq Abdullah and son Omar Abdullah, were being held against their will.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah has argued that the switch, which gives India’s centralized New Delhi government new powers over the region, was to ensure the long impending integration of Kashmir by putting it on the same status as the rest of the Indian states. People from outside the state will now be able to buy property there.
Various parts of the Kashmir region, in the Himalayas, are claimed by both India and Pakistan, and Modi’s moves set off increased tension between the rival nuclear powers. The U.N. Security Council met on Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in decades this week in response to the lockdown, according to the Associated Press.