‘A horror’: B.C. law student still can’t reach her family due to Kashmir clampdown

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A Kashmiri woman who is studying in B.C. says she still can’t get in contact with family back home, nearly two weeks after a security crackdown in the India-controlled region.

Zehra Munshi came to Canada last year to study for her master’s degree in law at the University of Victoria, leaving the rest of her family behind in Kashmir.

But ever since India imposed a near-constant curfew and communications blackout on Aug. 5, Munshi has become one of many who have been unable to call, email or text their parents or siblings.

Zehra Munshi, bottom left, with her family in Kashmir. Munshi, who is studying law in Victoria, B.C., has been unable to reach her family since the Indian government imposed a total communication clampdown on the region nearly two weeks ago. Submitted/Zehra Munshi

“You have that certainty that you’ll be able to call, and then you can’t even reach through the phone,” she said Saturday. “I don’t know what else to do.”

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Munshi says she last talked to her family on Aug. 4. She adds she’s “one of those people who doesn’t talk to her family every day,” so she didn’t give much thought to trying to contact them the next day.

It was a couple of days later, and after multiple unsuccessful attempts to get her parents on the phone, when Munshi says she knew something was wrong.

“It was a horror,” she said. “You don’t realize the importance of talking to your family until it just gets taken away.”

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India imposed the blackout to avoid a violent reaction to its decision to downgrade the autonomy of the Muslim-majority state, which has been disputed for decades.

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Thousands of newly deployed troops arrived in the Indian-controlled region just before the government’s decision was announced, and internet and phone services were cut without warning.

Both India and Pakistan claim the Himalayan region, which is divided between the nuclear-armed rivals. The decision by the Hindu-led government in New Delhi has raised tensions with Pakistan and touched off anger in the Indian-controlled region.

On Saturday, authorities announced they had begun restoring landline phone services and lifting other restrictions. But Munshi says she still can’t reach her loved ones.

“I tried 15 to 20 times today calling every number I know, but none of them has worked,” she said. “I don’t understand. To me, it’s a lie. And what do they expect, do they think this will bring back peace? It won’t.”

Munshi is worried that potential conflicts with the armed troops dispatched to the region will further put her family in danger.

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She says a plebiscite would allow people in Kashmir to decide whether they want independence from India, sending a direct message to the government.

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“What’s happening in Kashmir is undemocratic,” Munshi said. “In order to do this, [the Indian government] needed the consent of our state legislature, which wan’s there. So by bypassing that, it means they’re doing it illegally.

“You say you’re a democratic country, and then you’re doing this? In my mind, it’s not a democracy. It’s a failure of democracy.”

Munshi says she’s planning to reach out to local advocacy groups to seek assistance but hasn’t started looking at who to contact.

In the meantime, the only person Munshi is able to talk to is her brother, who is living in the U.K. and also can’t find any answers to how their family is coping with the unrest.

“We’re both stressing out about who to talk to and what to do,” she said. “I’m glad I can talk to him, but it’s not enough.”

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—With files from the Associated Press

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