Scores of Canadian human rights and peace activists joined fellow Canadians of Kashmiri and Pakistani origins to observe Kashmir Solidarity Day in Toronto, Canada on February 8.
After recitation from the noble Qur’an, Mr. Wajid Hashmi, Deputy Consul General of Pakistan in Toronto read out messages of President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan on the occasion of Kashmir Solidarity Day.
Long-time Canadian peace activists and journalists included Karen Rodman of Just Peace Advocates, Michaela Lavis, a Master’s student at York University, James Clark of the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, Journalist Phil Taylor, Ken Stone of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War and Ali Mallah, former vice president of the Canadian Arab Federation.
They were unequivocal in their support of the rights of the people of Kashmir suffering India’s brutal military occupation.
Repeatedly speakers called for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir. The nearly dozen resolutions dating back to 1948 specifically call for a referendum in Jammu and Kashmir so that people can determine their own future.
The highlight of the program was the presentation by two Canadian ladies—mother and daughter team—that recently visited Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
They shared their impressions and observations with the conference participants.
Part of a four-member delegation, Karen Rodman and her daughter Michaela Lavis narrated the tales of pain and separation the Kashmiri refugees from Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) have suffered. Most of them have not seen loved ones for 30 years when they fled in the face of Indian army brutality.
Other members of the delegation to Pakistan and AJK included Dr. Jonathan Kuttab, an International Human Rights lawyer and founder and director of Al Haq, the Palestinian Human Rights organization, and Zafar Bangash, Convener of Friends of Kashmir Canada.
James Clark, who is completing his PhD at York University, condemned the recent draconian laws introduced by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi that deprive religious minorities especially Muslims of their citizenship rights in India.
Ken Stone of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War had visited AJK in January 2017 after attending an International Conference on Kashmir in Islamabad.
Journalist Phil Taylor who frequently invites guests to highlight the situation in Indian occupation Kashmir (IOK), said that solution to the Kashmir dispute already exists: a referendum that was promised through a dozen resolutions of the UN Security Council.
On numerous occasions he has interviewed Zafar Bangash about the situation in IOK, especially since India imposed the August 5, 2019 lockdown.
Michaela Lavis was interviewed on his radio program following her visit to the refugee camps in AJK.
President Masood Khan of AJK has also been interviewed by Mr. Taylor.
Dr. Ali Mallah, ex-vice president of the Canadian Arab Federation also spoke and urged mobilization of the student community at university campuses to bring the issue of the long-suffering Kashmiri people to the forefront of Canadian politics.
During their visit to Ambore, Thotha and Manak Panyan refugee camps in AJK, Karen Rodman and Michaela Lavis, they were surprised to learn that this was the first international civil society group in 30 years to visit any of the refugee camps.
There are more than 40,000 refugees from IOK in various camps in AJK.
“The last time any humanitarian organizations came to AJK was during the devastating earthquake of October 2005 when more than 100,000 people were killed,” Michaela narrated. “Those groups had come to offer immediate relief but then they were gone.”
Since their return to Canada, Karen Rodman and her daughter have spoken to Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, Alex Neve who pledged to support any hearings on Kashmir in the Canadian parliament’s sub-committee on Human Rights. Meetings are also scheduled with a number of MPs and other civil society groups.
Young student Hurriya Khawaja, of Kashmiri background spoke about the suffering of the Kashmiris and brought many to tears when she presented facts and figures.
Pakistan’s new Consul General in Toronto, Mr. Abdul Hamid shed light on the brutalities the people of Jammu and Kashmir have suffered under Indian occupation.
The murder of more than 95,000 Kashmiris, mass graves, disappearance of thousands of Kashmiri youth and the gang rape of Kashmiri women are all known and documented, he said.
The Kashmiris demand the right of self-determination that India stubbornly refuses to agree to although it was India that had taken the issue to the UN Security Council in early 1948.
The program ended with a pledge by participants to intensify their efforts to mobilize global public opinion for the legitimate rights of the Kashmiri people.
Calls were also made to lobby the Canadian government to uphold international law and its own obligations in fulfilling UN Security Council resolutions.