Paani, a non-profit started by University alumni in response to the growing water shortage in Pakistan, spearheaded a teach-in on the humanitarian crisis in Kashmir, a disputed territory in the northern part of India, Thursday night. In particular, the event focused on the current state of Indian-administered Kashmir following India’s tighter control and erosion of democratic freedoms in the region.
Paani organized the teach-in in conjunction with several other cultural organizations on campus. Rackham student Nishita Trisal, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology studying Kashmir, and Rackham student Safwaan Mir, president of the University’s chapter of Stand with Kashmir, headed the teach-in by presenting on the current crisis in the region and the history and context of the situation. Though both individuals come from Kashmiri backgrounds, Trisal noted they are not speaking for all Kashmiris, especially since the current communications blackout in Indian-controlled Kashmir means those in the region may not be able to speak themselves on these issues right now.
Mir explained both India and Pakistan are interested in the Kashmir region for its natural resources, such as water, and because of its strategic military position between the two countries and China. Mir emphasized the suffering of the Kashmiri people is lost in the struggle for dominance between these two powerful countries.
“(India and Pakistan’s) interests are primarily going to be in their strategic political position, not in the interest and the well-being of the Kashmiri people who have suffered the most,” Mir said. “Instead, the truly legitimate way to look at the situation is for Kashmiris to have a right to choose for themselves what they want to be and what their future is.”
The modern division of the Kashmir region came about following the partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947, which displaced millions of people along religious lines, including the Kashmiris, Trisal explained. Since the implementation of the Indian Constitution in 1950, which gave Kashmir semi-autonomy, there have been Kashmiri movements for self-determination often met with violent responses by the Indian government.
On Aug. 5, the Parliament of India repealed Articles 370 and 35A in the Indian Constitution, taking away Kashmir’s autonomy. Trisal explained this decision was announced amid a total communications blackout and a military lockdown of the region, both of which are still ongoing.
“What was so shocking about this act is that overnight these protections were taken away,” Trisal said. “I think it’s important to point out the decision flew in the face of international norms.”
In addition to other complications, the blackout has caused a medical crisis in the region as hospitals struggle to coordinate and people are unable to call for help. Thousands of Kashmiris have also been allegedly tortured and detained without trial or due process since the crackdown began.
“I consider it war, that the Indian government went to war with the Kashmirian people,” Mir said. “You’re looking at thousands upon thousands of unmarked graves that exist in the Kashmir valley, disappearances, arrests — all these things the Indian army had the rights to do without repercussions.”
Trisal and Mir urged the audience to continue to inform themselves and others of the situation in Kashmir by attending similar events, engaging in social media campaigns and contacting legislators.
Paani co-founder Omar Ilyas, a University alum, explained the organization intentionally worked to empower the voices of Kashmiris, who he said often go unheard in the discussion about the Kashmir crisis.
“A lot of different information come out from a lot of different news outlets, and each of them have their own sort of bias. But something you don’t hear often is the perspective from Kashmiris,” Ilyas said. “We wanted to create a space that upholds and focuses on the Kashmiri narrative, where Kashmiris are able to speak on behalf of their own people instead of where people are speaking on behalf of them.”
LSA senior Humza Hemani told The Daily he came to the teach-in specifically to hear Kashmiri perspectives on the issue.
“I actually wasn’t going to come until I found out they were making an effort to make it Kashmiri viewpoints rather than Pakistani ones,” Hemani said. “I’ve seen the propaganda from the Pakistani side, from the Indian side, but I feel like this is a viewpoint that has more legitimacy to it.”
Public Policy graduate student Ruqayya Ahmad explained to The Daily her program predominantly focuses on American issues, so she finds it important to learn about issues in the international community as well.
“I think this is an incredibly large human rights issue, and it’s been largely ignored by the international community,” Ahmad said. “It’s important for the plight of the Kashmiris to be brought to the international stage."
Ilyas agreed with Ahmad, pointing to the University’s global influence.
“The way the University of Michigan positions itself is as global leaders, as ‘leaders and the best,’” Ilyas said. “We are global citizens of this community, and change cannot happen until we must acknowledge the problem that exists.”