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U.S. passport saved me from chaos in Kashmir

Kashmiri Muslims take part in a protest in

Kashmiri Muslims take part in a protest in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, on Friday. Credit: EPA / Shutterstock / STR

My reason for flying to Kashmir in late July was joyous: my niece’s wedding in the large city of Srinagar.

A week later, after witnessing Indian troops turn the land of my family’s origins into a repressive prison, with a curfew restricting people to their homes and a communications shutdown isolating them from their families, I felt lucky to fly home to California. At this dangerous moment, most Kashmiris have no such luck.

Kashmir is the most northern region of the Indian subcontinent. It contains Jammu and Kashmir, a semiautonomous territory administered by India, and other areas administered by Pakistan and by China. To India and Pakistan, it has been a source of endless dispute since 1947, when they became independent nations. Each claims Kashmir entirely, but neither controls all of it. To me, my family, and the residents of Kashmir, it is a place of breathtaking, mountainous beauty.

Last week, many parents kept children home from school out of fear of increasing unrest, after violent clashes between Indian army troops and demonstrators who oppose India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status and split the state in two.

From the time I arrived until midday Aug. 2, everything — the wedding festivities and the city itself — seemed normal. That afternoon, my aunt and I saw Indian army soldiers telling tourists and nonresidents to leave the city. That evening, we saw unusual movement in the streets by Indian army troops and the Central Reserve Police Force, an armed Indian paramilitary organization. We saw people standing in long lines at gas stations and at local markets. The Indian government had revoked two parts of its constitution, articles 370 and 35A, removing whatever autonomy Kashmir enjoyed. So people panicked and tried to stock up.

At midnight, the Indian army announced an indefinite curfew. People had to stay in their homes, and everything was closed: schools, universities, government offices, businesses, hospitals, mosques. India shut down all communication: mobile phones, landlines, internet, and TV channels. 

I had no way of communicating or visiting my brother. My cousin tried to deliver medicine to his elderly mother-in-law a few miles away, but Indian forces wouldn’t let him past his driveway. Peering through the front gate of our residence, we saw deserted streets and armed Indian troops.

On the evening of Aug. 4, we saw smoke in the air, smelled tear gas, and heard gunshots. The next morning, we heard that a teenager had been shot in the head and others had been injured in clashes between demonstrators and Indian forces. We also heard that a pregnant woman had to stop so many times en route to the hospital that she gave birth near its entrance.

The following afternoon, my aunt and I left for the airport. On our way, Indian forces stopped us at three checkpoints and conducted body searches. We were only allowed to pass because we had U.S. passports and return airline tickets. At the airport, we witnessed a chaotic scene, as tourists and nonresidents hurried to leave. Since returning to California, I have been unable to contact my relatives.

My American citizenship allowed me to leave the chaos, but Kashmiris don’t have that protection. I hope the United States will use its influence with India on behalf of those suffering people. Though President Donald Trump said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked him weeks ago to mediate with Pakistan, India denies Trump’s account.

Whatever the relationship between the two, it’s vital that the United States do whatever it can to persuade Modi that this unjust crackdown on Kashmir endangers world peace.

Yasmeen Khan, a former Jericho resident, is a social worker in California.

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