3-month-old among Canadians under lockdown in Kashmir, father says

An Edmonton father says his three-month-old daughter and wife are stuck in Kashmir amid a lockdown imposed by the Indian government.

Nasir Sheikh told Global News he hasn’t heard from his wife since the government enforced a strict curfew on Aug. 5 and shuttered internet and telecom services in the region.

Sheikh has no idea how his daughter, who is a Canadian citizen, and wife are doing. He’s also unable to contact his parents and extended family in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

“The last time we talked was on Aug. 3,” he explained. “After that, I’m not able to communicate with them.”

His wife, who is a PhD student at the University of Alberta, went to Kashmir along with their daughter about one month ago to spend time with her family.

On Aug. 3, Sheikh said his family started noticing some unusual instances in Kashmir. India had already warned tourists and students to leave the region but had not provided a reason why.

Sheikh with his wife and daughter just before they left for Kashmir.

“I was suggesting to her to prepone the tickets and just come home,” he said, explaining the couple didn’t realize how little time they had to act. “The next day, all communication was blocked. Even if I preponed the tickets, I can’t convey that to her.”

He added that Kashmir has faced curfews and phases of increased tension in the past, but he and his family had never anticipated that all lines of communication would be cut.

It’s been 10 days since the Indian government announced it would revoke the disputed region’s special status under the country’s constitution, putting much of its future into question. Thousands of newly deployed troops arrived in the Indian-controlled region just before that occurred, and internet and phone services were cut without warning.

Without contact with his family, Nasir says there are a lot of “negative thoughts” coming to his mind.

“Sometimes, I get a lot of bad thoughts, like what if my parents are not well or my daughter is not feeling well or they run out of diapers or baby food,” he said.

He noted that his daughter drinks both breast milk and formula, but his wife may not be able to go to the store to buy formula.

“They won’t be able to receive even basic health care. It is killing all Kashmiris from the inside,” Sheikh said.

“My basic concern right now is, what’s next?”

Sheikh’s wife, mother-in-law and daughter are scheduled to return to Canada on Aug. 28 via a flight from New Delhi. But he’s worried they won’t be able to leave their homes to get to the airport.

Sheikh, along with other Kashmiris living in Edmonton, has contacted Edmonton Mill Woods MP Amarjeet Sohi over these concerns. Sohi has acknowledged the request, but Sheikh says he hasn’t heard much more. Global News reached out to Sohi’s office for comment but did not hear back by publication.

Global News also contacted Global Affairs over reports that there are currently Canadian citizens under lockdown in Kashmir on Wednesday afternoon but was not provided a statement by time of publication.

There are currently 12 Canadians in the Kashmir region who have registered with the voluntary Registration of Canadians Abroad service, however there may be more Canadians who have not registered.

A couple from Mississauga, Ont., is also among Canadian citizens in Kashmir.

Adnan Yusuf told Global News his parents are currently in Kashmir, and like others in the region, he hasn’t been able to reach them since Aug. 5.

Adnan Yusuf during a recent visit to Kashmir.

“Right now, my parents are there. They’re Canadian citizens but they try to spend a few months back home each year,” he said, noting they went to Kashmir to visit family in June.

His parents were supposed to return to Toronto at the end of September.

Yusuf has been in contact with the High Commission of Canada in India. Consulate officials responded to an email from Yusuf on Wednesday, saying they forwarded his parents’ information to the Jammu and Kashmir helpline.

The response said consulate officials are working to “confirm the well-being of your parents and to ask them to contact you directly.” It added that the consulate will contact Yusuf once officials have information on his parents.

However, Yusuf said he has not heard anything else and is not sure when he will.

Yusuf also emailed Global Affairs on Wednesday and was told that while the Canadian government takes the “safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously,” it cannot take responsibility.

“We would recommend that they follow the advice of local authorities and work with their airline or travel agent during moments of interruption in the communication blackout to modify their travel plans if necessary,” the email advised.

“Please take into consideration that the decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller and that travellers are responsible for their own personal safety,” it added.

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