Tens of thousands of Canadians packed Toronto’s iconic Nathan Philip Square in Toronto on Sunday August 18 to raise their voices in support of the oppressed people of Kashmir.
Organized by Friends of Kashmir Canada, people from all walks of life and belonging to all faiths attended. They included Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and people of other faiths.
Young and old, children as well as people in wheelchairs were there to lend support to their Kashmiri brothers and sisters.
At its peak the crowd was so large that it could not be accommodated in the square so people had to climb to the overhead walkway to watch the rally below.
The rally was held to coincide with India’s independence day celebrations paid for the Indian Consulate in Toronto where an India Food Festival was also held.
Realizing the size of the rally in support of the people of Kashmir, Indian consulate staff maintained a low profile and cancelled a number of events including a formal opening ceremony, settling for music blaring from their loudspeakers.
The several dozen vendors peddling greasy Indian food were also subdued, preferring to adopt a low profile aware that the rally participants were highly charged although organizers repeatedly reminded people to ignore Indian vendors peddling their wares.
Speakers were not just from the Kashmiri or Pakistani communities but also included such well-known Canadian society figures as Sid Ryan, former President Ontario Federation of Labor, Journalist Phil Taylor of the famous Taylor Report, Peace Activist Ken Stone, Karen Rodman of Just Peace Advocates and Human Rights Lawyer, Stephen Ellis.
Framing it in the context of International law and based on UN Security Council resolutions, speakers repeatedly called upon the Canadian government to take a more forthright stand on the long-festering problem of Kashmir.
Several speakers also highlighted the fact that with federal elections due in October, the question of Kashmir should be made a part of the election campaign. Rally participants were told that when candidates come knocking at your door seeking your vote, ask them about their stand on Kashmir.
“If they don’t support the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, tell them they will not have your vote,” said Zafar Bangash, Convener of the Friends of Kashmir Canada and one of the principal organizers of the rally.
Ken Stone reminded rally participants that it was a retired Canadian general, Andrew MacNaughton who was instrumental in formulating the earlier Security Council resolutions. “Canada, therefore, has a moral and legal responsibility to fulfill its obligations in implementing the resolutions that it drafted.”
Sid Ryan, the former Labor leader and now an accomplished author, called upon people to unite for justice and peace causes whether these relate to Kashmir or Palestine.
Human Rights Lawyer Stephen Ellis said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be investigated for war crimes, a sentiment echoed by another lawyer, Jatinder Singh, who is with the group, Sikhs for Justice.
A number of young Kashmiri students among them Salma Khawaja, Khaoula Siddiqi, Shaheen Siddiqui, Ayesha Malik (not her real name because her parents are still in Srinagar and she managed to get out of there with the help of Canadian High Commission staff in Delhi) and Mueen Hakak also spoke narrating passionate accounts of the suffering of the Kashmir people.
There were also a number of speakers from the Sikh community that came to express solidarity with the people of Kashmir.
Rally organizers vowed that the struggle for the rights of the Kashmiris will continue until they achieve their legitimate aspirations to hold a referendum as contained in a number of UN Security Council resolutions.