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Muslims for Social Justice protest visit from Indian Ambassador to the U.S.

Pro-Kashmiri demonstrators, who declined to be identified, gather outside the Global Education Center to protest the arrival of Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the ambassador from India to the United States, at the invitation of the Krasno Event Series on Friday, Oct. 10, 2019. The group accuses India of perpetrating human rights abuses against the "semi-autonomous" region of Kashmir. "I think this event is a political event, which Indian ambassador is trying to project lies inside about their atrocities in Kashmir and talking of India as a trade partner and asking U.S. to do a strategic partnership," one protestor says.

Muslims for Social Justice, a North Carolina-based organization dedicated to social justice and human rights for all, protested human rights abuses in Kashmir Thursday following a speech by the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. at the FedEx Global Education Center.

Kashmir is a heavily militarized disputed territory in India with a majority Muslim population. India revoked a constitutional provision granting special status to Kashmir in August, removing certain autonomous powers and raising concerns of future conflict in the region. 

An escalation of reports of torture and human rights violations in the region prompted Manzoor Cheema, an organizer for Muslims for Social Justice, to hold a protest to coincide with Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla's talk at UNC in solidarity with those experiencing human rights violations. 

“The purpose was to highlight human rights abuses in Kashmir,” Cheema said. 

Cheema said India detains political opponents and supporters of Kashmiri officials. Opponents are subject to torture, he said, and intimidation tactics are used against the Kashmiri population. Cheema said Genocide Watch, an organization that seeks to predict, prevent and punish forms of mass murder, placed Kashmir on a list of alerts for genocide.

“Their goal is to wipe out the non-Hindu population in India,” Cheema said. “So what’s happening is not in isolation. We feel that this is a rise of fascism.”

Cheema said he believes the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is pursuing a fascist agenda, including what Cheema considers to be ethnic cleansing.  

There were 20 to 30 protestors at the FedEx Global Education Center on Thursday, according to Cheema. Those interviewed for this article asked to remain anonymous for fear of government retaliation against family members still in Kashmir. 

“The fear and the uncertainty of whether our loved ones are safe at home in this scenario and situation — we haven’t been able to sleep," a demonstrator said. "It’s affecting our kids here; it’s affecting our whole life."

Another protestor interviewed anonymously described Kashmir as a large concentration camp. He said the Indian government is working to dehumanize those living in Kashmir by taking away basic rights. 

“There is no freedom of speech,” the protestor said. “That is all gone. Human rights are all gone.”

The protestors said they want to educate students and faculty at UNC about what is happening in Kashmir. 

“What we want UNC students to take is that silence is not an option,” Cheema said. “We have to act locally but think globally.”

Cheema said he encourages people he speaks with to reach out to legislators and contact members of the media. He said society needs to recognize the problem and stand up for those who are vulnerable. 

“If there is oppression, it is our moral duty and obligation as human beings to speak up,” Cheema said.

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