URBANA — The grandson of Mahatma Gandhi invoked the Indian leader’s message of nonviolent resistance Friday as he urged the world to support the people of Kashmir.
Rajmohan Gandhi, a University of Illinois research professor, criticized India’s “abrupt, illegal and unconstitutional takeover of Kashmir,” referring to the central government’s Aug. 5 decision to abolish a section of the constitution granting autonomy to the majority-Muslim state on the border with Pakistan.
The decision was made without the consent of the Kashmiri people, Gandhi said. The Indian government also imposed an unprecedented communications blackout in the area and sent thousands of more troops there, he said.
Gandhi, a featured speaker at a student-led rally in support of Kashmir, called on the United States and other countries to speak out against the government’s actions and support human rights there.
“If the people of Kashmir resist the Indian state, which has lots of carrots and lots of sticks, with strategic and nonviolent noncooperation, many in the world will be stirred,” Gandhi said.
The Kashmiri region has been an ongoing source of friction in South Asia for decades, according to the Muslim-American Society of Champaign-Urbana, which organized Friday’s event with several student groups.
In 1947, the Indian subcontinent, previously under British rule, split into two separate and independent states: Pakistan, which has a Muslim majority, and India, with a Hindu majority. Kashmir initially chose to remain independent, but it’s Hindu ruler acceded the territory to India, and it has been fought over ever since, according to the Washington Post.
The Kashmir region is split into two areas, one controlled by Pakistan and one controlled by India, Gandhi said. Two U.N. resolutions have called for holding a referendum in Kashmir to determine its future.
A curfew has been in place in Kashmir since Aug. 5, preventing families from accessing food, medicine, school, and jobs, speakers said, including UI senior Affan Khalid, president of the Pakistani Student Association.
Gandhi said several thousand people have been arrested, including political leaders, and the Indian government imposed a “total lockdown,” shutting down phones and the internet, banning people from gathering or speaking in public, and barring visits by journalists or opposition leaders from other parts of India.
“Kashmir is shut down life has become miserable,” said UI graduate student Rashid Ahmad, who is from the region.
The Indian government claims that it had popular support for the measures, including in Kashmir, but “not a single person from the Kashmir Valley has spoken in favor of the step. Not one,” Gandhi said.
He said the takeover seems to enjoy wide backing in India, which is led by Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Plans have been announced for settling large numbers of Indians in the Kashmir Valley to change its demographics and ensure that talk of autonomy or independence “will forever cease,” Gandhi said.
“The world must confront the reality of a large and strong country doing as it pleases with a small and weak territory on its frontier,” he said.
In a separate interview, the soft-spoken Gandhi said his grandfather would be condemning the government’s actions. He said he doesn’t speak out often, but “when something like this happens, we have to.”
He said the takeover has pained many Indians who believed in his grandfather’s vision of a multiethnic India that considered all of its people — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Christians and atheists — as equal citizens.
“It constitutes a fall of what Indians have been proud of, India’s democratic structure, and a brazen repudiation of the democratic principle that governments must rule with the consent of the governed,” he said in his remarks.
Gandhi quoted a statement from several eminent Indians on behalf of the “fraternity of Mahatma Gandhi,” which read in part, “we are witnessing something cruel, ugly, undemocratic and seemingly irreversible.”
Some speakers on Friday warned of a potential nuclear conflict between the two countries. That drew some onlookers to shout disagreement, leading to some back-and-forth, but the rally ended peacefully, and the two sides talked amicably afterward.
Despite Kashmir’s complex political history, other speakers said, the conflict today is a simple matter of human rights.
Marium Kureishy, president of the Muslim-American society on campus, said the people of Kashmir deserve the right to self-determination, just like people all over the world.
“Human rights are not a partisan issue,” she said.
Originally published on wwwnews-gazette.com