Victoria, British Columbia (Canada), October 03 (KMS): A large number of students of University of British Colombia (UBC) in Canada held a rally to express solidarity with the oppressed people of occupied Kashmir.

Around a hundred students marched from the Martha Piper Fountain to the Nest in protest against the restrictions and communications blackout imposed by India in occupied Kashmir.

Echoing across University Boulevard were chants of “Free, free, free Kashmir!”, “Hear our voices! Tell our stories!” and “Hum Kya Chahte! Azadi!” which translates to “What do we want? We want freedom!”. They were also holding banners reading “Lift The Iron Curtain”, “Stand Up Against Fascism” and “Value Human Lives – Stop The Genocide”.

In between marching, organizers and Kashmiri students spoke to the crowd about human rights violations in occupied Kashmir and the importance of speaking out against them.

Co-founder of the online activist group Stand with Kashmir UBC, Taabish Masood, began the event by talking about the communications blockade and its effects on people both within and outside the Kashmir region. “People that are away from Kashmir, students of our very university, can no longer talk to their parents because of the communications blackout that has been put in place.”

“This is not just a blatant violation of human rights. It is also a violation of all the civil liberties that we hold so dear to ourselves living here in Vancouver,” he said.

Occupied Kashmir is under military siege since August 5 when Narendra Modi-led communal government in New Delhi abrogated the special status of the territory. Since then, thousands of people in the territory have been arrested and all communication lines have been cut.

In front of the Nest, Kashmiri-born student, Tabinda Mumtaz Sultan Shah acknowledged her privilege of having grown up in Malaysia instead of occupied Kashmir but added that hers is not the story of a wealthy family that upped and left a desolate situation. “My father was kidnapped and tortured by pro-government militia. My mother had to hide her wedding jewelry every time our house was raided by Indian army,” she paused to compose herself before continuing to address the crowd.

“It is the story of my people that I’m here for today. The story of my uncle who is being detained under the charge of being a businessman … and you know what? We’re the lucky ones because we know where he is,” said Mumtaz Sultan Shah.

One of the rally organizers, Alifya Sohail, spoke on behalf of a Kashmiri student who could not attend the rally because of the numerous death threats her family has received. “My motherland of Kashmir is a paradise on Earth. Its mountains are filled with beauty only the lucky few have gotten to see,” said Sohail on behalf of the absentee Kashmiri. “But, if its mountains are also filled with vast, unnamed graves that the Indian authorities do not want you to know about, how unlucky are we?”

The speech Sohail read encouraged listeners to put their humanity before their nationality.

“Your stand here is not a question of being pro-Indian or pro-Pakistani or Chinese or being a nationalist or a leftist. If today, we remove politics … you will see how the conflict in Kashmir – and, in fact, every conflict and war – is a pure humanitarian crisis.”

“I know for a fact that many of you study politics (international relations), science and engineering. I want you to use my words to remind you that before you are anything before you believe in anything, you are human,” Sohail read.

The speeches concluded with words by event organizer Riya Talitha who encouraged fellow Indian nationals to stand up for the people of Kashmir. “There are 900,000 troops stationed in Kashmir – not to cut down on terrorists, not to make sure that there’s law and order – but to clamp down on civilians who are protesting unarmed,” she said.

“If we don’t speak up now, there will be even more lives lost – there are lives being lost right now as of this moment 2,000 kilometres away,” said Riya Talitha.

As the rally wound down, Taabish Masood told the crowd about the UBC Global Lounge panel talk, “Voices From Kashmir,” featuring Kashmiri experts, as well as a similar protest in Holland Park in Surrey on October 5.

He added that Canadians can also write to their local MLAs and MPs about their concerns with the situation in occupied Kashmir. “One of the things Canadians can do is put pressure on the government to stand by Canada’s existing stance on the Kashmir issue, which is that they do not support militarization of the region which the authorities right now are doing.”

Taabish Masood was referring to Canada as a signatory of the UN Security Council Resolution 47, which includes the recommendation to reduce Indian forces in Kashmir.

“Some local MLAs and MPs spoke out against this but none of them has been as vocal as, let’s say, Bernie Sanders in the United States, who is very vocal about this issue. We want Canadian MLAs and MPs to be as vocal as he is in condemning this – not be wishy-washy about it, not be on the fence about it. Call a spade a spade. Call a human rights violation a human rights violation,” Taabish Masood added.

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