For 12 days, their calls and texts, social media messages and prayers have been met with silence.
Relatives of Kashmir residents, who have been locked away under an unprecedented security crackdown by the Indian government, wonder if anyone they know has been blinded by pellet guns, imprisoned by security forces or assaulted. They wonder when children will be allowed to return to school, when the phones will be turned back on, when the Internet will be restored.
They have not gotten answers. So, on Friday, more than 100 people gathered outside the Indian Embassy in Washington to demand some.
“Kashmir has become the biggest jail on earth,” said Suleman Qureshi, 57. “We are really blessed to be here, in this country, where we have a voice. That is why now we must be Kashmir’s voice.”
Life in the Kashmir Valley — a disputed region claimed by both India and Pakistan — has ground to a halt amid an intense crackdown the Indian government has said is meant to prevent an uprising after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the region of its autonomy and statehood.
For more than a week, Kashmiri residents have not been able to make calls, connect to the Internet or stay out past curfew. Public meetings of more than four people have been banned, and schools have been closed. Hundreds have been detained as security forces patrol the streets.
Friday’s protest in Washington, which included a call to prayer, came as the Indian government said it planned to slightly loosen its clamp on Kashmir and reintroduce landline phone service to residents — but not mobile phone service or Internet, which Indian officials said could be misused by terrorist groups.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been disputed territory for 70 years, split among India, Pakistan and China. Those living in India’s portion, the only Muslim-majority region of India, have long sought political autonomy or outright independence.
The decision by India’s central government to revoke Kashmir’s statehood status has led to widespread unrest, violent protests and a diplomatic breakdown with regional rival Pakistan.
Demonstrators on Friday called on the United Nations and the Trump administration to intercede and push the Indian government to grant them the right to self-determination.
“People think this is just more tug of war between Pakistan and India, but the people who are suffering the most are the Kashmiri people,” said Maliha Jamil, who attended the demonstration with her husband and four daughters. It was her first protest.
“My daughters grew up here, and they didn’t know anything about Kashmir until they started to see the news this week, and they were devastated by what they saw,” Jamil said. “I felt we needed to be here and lend our voices because the Kashmiri people have none.”
Demonstrators gathered at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, across the street from the Indian Embassy, where they held signs declaring, “Kashmiri lives matter, too,” and “No justice, no peace.”
Several called India’s prime minister a fascist and a zealot, chanting “shame, shame, Modi!” and “from Kashmir to Palestine, occupation is a crime.”
Calls to the Indian Embassy were not returned Friday.
“You know who killed Gandhi? A Hindu supremacist,” said Osama Abuirshaid, executive director of American Muslims for Palestine, gesturing to the bronze figure. “Those who are defending this intolerance of the prime minister, they are defending the same ideology that assassinated this man.”
On the grass of a small triangle along Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest Washington, protesters unrolled sheets of plastic, blankets and ornate prayer rugs. They removed their shoes — sneakers, sandals, loafers and ballet flats — and gathered on their knees to pray.
Several workers from the embassy gathered across the street to watch. Cars honked as they drove past.
“Their voices are locked down, but I am their voice, I am their body, that’s why I am here,” said Saima Maqbool Shah, 54, a Maryland resident whose family is from the Kashmir region. “I have nightmares when I see those pictures of people blinded by the pellet guns. I can’t sleep at night wondering what is happening over there.”