ARTESIA, Calif. — Geared to inform the audience of the thousands of minorities fleeing their lands in South Asia to escape radical terrorism, speakers representing Balochistan, Bangladesh, the Sindh region, and the Kashmiri Pandits delivered passionate speeches July 16 at the Tara Himalayan restaurant here to celebrate the United Nations World Refugee Day.
The event was organized by the Jagriti Foundation and the Kashmir Hindu Foundation, and was moderated by Simi Valley, Calif.-based doctor Parvin Syal.
The event was kickstarted by Dr. Amrit Nehru of the Kashmir Hindu Foundation, a Kashmiri Pandit, who addressed the crowd by showering praise on India for being an open and a tolerant nation.
“I’m proud to be born in India,” he said. “No matter our thoughts, or our religion, India gave refuge to millions of people. This nation accepted Tibetan and Bangladeshi refugees, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians.”
Before moving on to the speakers, Kamlesh Chauhan, Indian American founder of Jagriti and co-organizer of the event, gave a heartfelt salute to the veterans who have served in both the Indian and the U.S. armies.
Dr. Saghir Shaikh, secretary general of the World Sindhi Congress, took to the stage first, talking about the plight of the Hindu minorities in the Sindh region of Pakistan.
“Twenty-five percent of Sindhi Hindus had to forcefully quit their homeland and settle in other places,” Shaikh said. “We lost the most brilliant people in our nation.”
He talked about the lack of support from the state that the Sindh people face, and how that is severely stopping their development.
Shaikh said that it was important to focus on what unites people and brings them together. He pointed out to the diverse gathering of speakers – Hindus, Muslims and Jews – coming together to find a solution to the atrocities faced by their people.
Nehru took to the stage next, talking about how Kashmir went from being a land of Hindus to having them being driven out of the state in fear.
After a brief history of the Kashmiri people and its Hindu origins, he mentioned the various exoduses that rocked the state, leaving it with only 11 Hindu families at one time.
“If this can happen to the most peace-loving community of Hindus, it can happen to anyone,” Nehru concluded. He wondered how the violent expulsion of Kashmiri Hindus was accepted with impunity by the people of India.
Aziz Baloch of the Baloch freedom movement and Canada-based producer of an online program about the missing Baloch people, then took to the stage, talking about the genocide of his people.
He first explained the geography of the region, and how it was invaded by the Muslim Punjabi army in 1948.
“It divided the subcontinent, and weakened India,” Baloch said. “Since then, the foreign occupying power have treated it as an enemy, and the United Nations has remained silent against this genocide.”
Military attacks, abduction of women and children have been common occurrences, with political workers and activists being targeted now, Baloch said.
Human rights activist and author Richard Benkin focused on effectively helping the refugees in South Asia, and fighting radical terrorism.
“Even if we succeed in driving ISIS out of Syria and Iraq, they’ve found a home in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, too,” Benkin said.
He emphasized that this wasn’t a fight against any religion, but the horrors of terrorism.
“Each day that we don’t act, another girl gets raped, another child is abducted, another mandir is desecrated,” Benkin said.
He was clear that the first thing people can do to bring the issue to focus was to find good, reliable information from people witnessing these horrors. He told the audience to inform their peers in the affected areas to take photographs as evidence, and share them.
The event was followed by a question-and-answer session during which the audience asked questions about their concerns regarding improving the situation for the refugees, and bringing it to attention. The speakers focused on remaining united, and conducting more of such events to spread the issue. Benkin also re-emphasized that it was important to have real sources to back up their knowledge.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who was supposed to be the chief guest at the event, was not able to attend due to a family emergency; hence, Kathleen Staunton, his district director, briefly addressed the audience instead, and distributed plaques to the speakers.