The Indian-controlled territory of Kashmir is being transformed into a “militarized police state” that has left 3,000 Kashmiri-Americans in the Baltimore area unable to reach loved ones, Zainab Chaudry, director of outreach for a local Muslim advocacy group, said at a Monday news conference in Catonsville.
With Kashmir in the 55th day of a communications blackout on orders of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, escalating tensions between its Muslim majority and the Indian government has locked down the region. Local residents trying to contact their families are experiencing growing anxiety and frustration, said Chaudry, who is with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“There is absolutely no cellphone service, absolutely no internet service,” said Sumaira Zaffar, a Howard County resident with family members in Kashmir, who was at the CAIR news conference.
Zaffar said she sits for two hours every morning and two hours in the evenings dialing and redialing phone numbers to her relatives in Kashmir.
“After about 50 or 60 tries, you are lucky if you are going to get through,” she said. “History tells us that any time cellphones and internet is blocked and media is restricted, there is human rights violations.”
At the news conference, Baltimore-area Muslim advocacy groups called on Maryland lawmakers to take action to help Maryland families connect with their friends and relatives in Kashmir and urged congressional leaders to put pressure on Modi to ease the growing conflict.
Sofia Qadri, a Montgomery County resident who emigrated from Kashmir to the U.S., said her native country is now like a prison.
Tearfully, Qadri described a recent visit to Kashmir.
“Everything is closed,” she said, including hospitals. Medical supplies seem to be scarcer and scarcer, and “the people are dying at home and they cannot go deliver in the hospital,” she said.
With allegations of torture and mass arrest and detainment by Indian militants, the conflict is “a humanitarian crisis which has global implications [and] should not be left ignored,” said Salem Ahmad, president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council.
Fourteen members of U.S. Congress, none from Maryland, issued a joint statement addressed to Modi last week urging the Indian leader to lift the communications shutdown across Kashmir and address the ongoing humanitarian concerns in the Indian subcontinent’s northwestern region.
Kashmir has been embattled in decades of conflict between Pakistan and India,both of which control parts of the territory. Indian military forces have expanded in Kashmir as Kashmiri insurgents demand independence from its neighbors. A curfew in effect in the region has kept students from attending school and Kashmiris are sequestered in their homes for all but roughly four hours a day, Zaffar said.
Chaudry noted that earlier this month, Maryland senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both D-Maryland, penned a letter to President Donald Trump to call on Modi to restore telecommunications and internet service, lift the lockdown and release Kashmiris “detained pursuant to India’s revocation of Article 370,” according to a news release.
“This is not a local issue, this is not a domestic issue. This is a global issue,” Chaudry said.
Originally published on https://www.baltimoresun.com