On Thursday, a group of West Virginians rallied at the steps of the state Capitol, voicing concerns about what some say are human rights violations in Kashmir.
Kashmir is a mountainous patch of land between India and Pakistan, which were both combined during British rule until 1947.
For years since separating, the Muslim-majority Pakistan and the Hindu-majority India — both nuclear-armed nations — have disputed which country has a right to Kashmir.
Earlier this month, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370 in the country’s constitution that gave Kashmir autonomy.
NPR reports Modi blames Kashmir’s special constitutional status for “widespread corruption and nepotism” in Kashmir. He has said it’s difficult to enforce Indian laws there that protect minorities and establish minimum wages.
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority area.
The country has been on media lockdown for three weeks now. International media have reported several human rights violations, and violations of religious freedom.
Many of the people who gathered at the West Virginia Capitol Thursday are Muslim, with a Pakistani history. A few even have Kashmiri roots — like Saghir and Samina Mir.
Saghir Mir has been in the United States for the last 53 years. He moved to Ohio after graduating from medical school in Pakistan. His grandparents lived in Kashmir when it was under British rule.
“I am … upset over it,” he said.
His wife Samina also has Kashmiri roots. At the Thursday rally, she said she’s concerned about the several reported human rights violations happening in Kashmir.
“Pellet guns are being fired into their eyes, blinding them. And all of the political and religious leaders are in jail. There’s no freedom of religion, no one is allowed to go into the mosques to pray.”
Unbar Moghal, another of about 40 participants at Thursday’s rally, said she feels West Virginians should be concerned about the situation in Kashmir because it’s a matter of freedom of speech, and democracy.
“We are blessed in America to have freedom of speech,” Moghal said. “And I think that’s kind of what we’re missing in Kashmir with the blackout going on. We don’t really know what’s going on — only the people who are on the floor.”
Nazia Ahmed, another participant, said the people gathered were not rallying in support of any particular group or religion.
“This is plainly for humanity,” Ahmed said. “Yes, we’re in West Virginia, but at least we’re not quiet spectators. At least we’re standing up. At least we’re speaking — there’s so many people who don’t even know where Kashmir is or what’s going on, so they are quiet. But once people start hearing, they will start speaking against it. And that’s how you start creating a bigger and louder voice against what they’re doing (in) Kashmir.”
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.