I know some friends are waiting for a personal update about the NYC protests/ activities yesterday, but I am still so overwhelmed by it all that it is tough to sound more somber and analytical than in the below. But here are some initial thoughts. This is especially for Seeme Gull Khan Hasan whose questions and comments kept me company on the bus home. I know she was there in spirit as was my friend and sister-in-arms Helen (@Bea) in Sweden who watched all of it on social media while we were on the streets. Here it goes:
Got up at 4 am to make my way towards Northern Virginia where one batch of buses organised by the local Kashmiri Diaspora was waiting to take us all to NY. There were many such collection points throughout the entire area. All of it amazingly well organised. Thank you all for doing this! And thank you for hooking me up with them, Anwar Iqbal.
A young friend from Srinagar with whom I had coordinated for days on twitter sat down next to me, signalling the beginning of a new friendship that I know will last for long beyond our first collective action for Kashmir. We know many of the same people back home, and our talks on the bus were a drive down memory lane. Another young man from Kupwara joined us and we stayed together the entire day/ evening. I thought about the term Six Degrees of Separation which in my limited understanding of it means that all people sharing a common DNA will eventually meet.
Throughout the entire drive I felt like a huge security blanked had been draped around me. Such familiarity, such solidarity, such unity of purpose! I would have been fine never to get off the bus! And of course every few minutes there was some announcement about food with some boxes/ tiffins making their way down the isle. Nobody in the West will ever understand the food symbolism of Southasia and how it gives the term “breaking bread together” a whole new meaning. I have not felt that at home as on that bus for years!
After a 5 hour drive, the bus dropped us very close to the designated venue of the protests and right outside the UN. Thousands had already gathered and the numbers kept swelling. It was not easy to find people in a crowd that was almost uniformly wearing red #StandwithKashmir T-shirts! We looked like an army fighting for the freedom of Kashmiris! But despite the huge numbers participating (an estimated 16,000) being there together made us all realize what a small but ever more determined universe we inhabit. Again and again I bumped into somebody I knew and had not seen for ages. Some where Kashmiris I had met during our protest outside the White House a few weeks ago. Some people from back home. Some were activists I had met during a previous visit to NY during the same occasion. Many came up to me and said I am so and so, and we have been friends on twitter/ facebook for long and it is so great to finally meet.
There was another and much smaller rally of NRIs with a couple of Balochs, Kashmiris Hindus, and members of the Hindu American Foundation across the street from us, but the NY police made sure we never came into clashing distance. The barriers that had been erected to keep us apart were symbolic of a partition the gap of which seems to be growing wider today than the one having been created so many decades ago. Fortunately, their activities fizzled out long before ours. One of their cheer leaders was Tareq Fatah, and I kept wondering why their organizers could not come up with somebody with a bit more credibility!
Many of us were listening to IK’s speech on our phones and people kept clapping throughout and especially during his strong comments against Modi and of course in support of Kashmiris. There was nobody in the crowd who did not draw hope and inspiration from his words, and everybody felt represented by him inside the hall not far from us and where he was reaching out to the community of nations. Thank you for managing to unite us around a common message and thank you even more for making Kashmiris and their Right to Self Determination the center piece of all your activities over the past week. This has made it possible for all of us to march into the same direction, and it has started a healing process between different camps that was long overdue. Your activities over the past week in NY were enabling all of us to speak up in unity for those who have been silenced, and whose entire identity is being completely diminished so many miles away in a place that so many of us love more than anything else in the world! Our message to everybody is loud and clear: you will never be abandoned by any of us for a minute, and the slogan #StandwithKashmir will forever be our collective leitmotif as it has been for so many weeks already and throughout the world!
Many of us decided to stay on to join the candle light vigil at Times Square which had been organized by StandwithKashmir.org and a few others. In between the protests and the vigil there were other side events organised by academics and writers to raise awareness about the history and plight of Kashmiris in different venues nearby. In the evening, it became a tidal wave of Kashmiris from both sides of the border and their friends and well-wishers from near and far that flooded most of Times Square. The people in red had gathered by the thousands again to send their determination and goodwill and complete solidarity back home to Kashmir. The site of the pro freedom slogans displayed on the most famous and expensive billboard anywhere is something none of us will ever forget!!! And just like the apple is lowered at the same place at midnight on December 31 every year, a sight which is shared on the same billboard with millions around the world, we felt our demand to lift the siege of Kashmiris and to set them free was beamed for once to the entire universe. Thank you to those who made this possible. I am so humbled by the efforts of so many to unite everybody and help tell the world from NY that humanity could not allow what has been happening to an entire people for so many decades.
My two new Kashmiri friends who had traveled on the same bus with me in the morning stayed with me throughout the day to make sure I felt cared for and to also meet up with others I knew at both events. For 24 hours I felt not only overwhelmingly inspired by the collective larger goal of all of us but safe and surrounded by family and friends. Nothing creates more closeness and affection than commitment to a common cause. It can be positively intoxicating.
We took a late bus back to DC and reached Union Station by 2 in the morning. Almost 24 hours after leaving my flat, I could not help but feel that I had been yet again part of a new chapter in the long and torturous history of Kashmiris. One that was the beginning of a new and even more determined story-line scripted by Kashmirir people around the world and one where everybody has finally been united by a strong Ambassador-at-Large and his sincere and well received message that neither he nor any of us would ever abandon Kashmir.
Thank you IK and everybody else who made all of this possible! Let us make it a Million Kashmiri March the next time around!!! United we stand and united we win!