People took to Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square this weekend to voice their support for the people of Kashmir, weeks after the Indian government downgraded the region’s autonomy and began a security crackdown.
The demonstration took place in the same space as the India Day Festival, which was also being held in Nathan Phillips Square.
“The kids are dying. The kids are dying without food. They cannot go to hospital,” said Amir Butt, speaking of the conditions in his homeland.
A woman who arrived back from Kashmir a week ago after a month-long visit said she fears for continued violence in the region. She obscured her face and wouldn’t reveal her name out of concern for her family, all of whom still live in Kashmir.
“Children, small babies — they are deprived of milk so shops crack down,” she said.
India-controlled Kashmir, located between India and Pakistan, has been under heavy security and a communication lockdown ever since Aug. 5, when India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, moved to revoke the predominantly Muslim region’s special independent status.
“India has not only gone back on it, they are not even holding a referendum there and the people of Kashmir simply do not wish to be a part of India,” said Zafar Bangash, who helped organize the demonstration with Friends of Kashmir Canada. Bangash estimated the number of protesters to be in the thousands.
WATCH: (Aug. 14, 2019) Kashmiri-Canadians concerned for family in conflict zone
While protesters were in strong opposition to India’s actions, others at Nathan Phillips Square felt differently.
Roger Sharma was among counter-protesters who arrived with a giant poster depicting India’s prime minister.
“Now our country has been integrated for the first time ever. It has been 70 years. We had been facing so much discrimination in Kashmir,” Sharma said.
With conditions in the region widely described as dire, many at the rally want Canada and the world to act.
“Canada is a big, big ambassador for humanity, for human rights,” said Idrees Khan.
“Right now, this is the time to raise voice as a Canadian.”
Organizers are calling for a United Nations-supervised referendum to allow the people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine their region’s future.
They’re also asking the Canadian government to speak out more forcefully against what they see as blatant violations of human rights.