LONDON: Thousands of people, many waving Pakistani and Kashmiri flags, protested outside the Indian High Commission in London on Thursday in support of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
India’s decision to revoke special status for its portion of Kashmir, along with a communications blackout and curbs on movement, caused fury in Pakistan, which cut trade and transport links and expelled India’s envoy in retaliation.
In London, protesters carried banners saying “Kashmir is Burning”, “Free Kashmir” and “Modi: Make Tea Not War”, according to a Reuters reporter.
Police were keeping a small counter-demonstration apart from the main protest.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered an Independence Day speech on Thursday that spotlighted his decision to remove the special rights of Kashmir among the bold moves of his second term.
Many of the London protesters had come to the capital from other English cities on specially chartered buses.
“We want to show our solidarity with our Kashmiri brothers,” said Amin Tahir, a British pensioner of Kashmiri origin who came from Birmingham on one of the coaches.
“Since 1947 Kashmir has been struggling to be free from India. Now Modi has changed the law by force to stop Kashmir’s autonomy,” he said.
Actress Armeena Khan, who, on Tuesday, wrote an open letter to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) urging it to distance itself from Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra for “deprecating peace in favour of her patriotism at any cost”, also joined the protests.
In response to a fan asking if she’d participate in the London march against Indian atrocities in Kashmir, Armeena said: “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Her husband, Fesyl Khan, went live on Twitter from the anti-Modi march.
Fesyl was seen speaking to the protesters, and, after talking to some children there, said: “When you take [away] the voice of little kids in Kashmir and you think that you’re gonna steal them… don’t worry because a thousand other children will voice out, kids like this.”
Over 200 officers on duty
On August 13, it was reported that London’s Metropolitan Police was on alert ahead of today’s major anti-Indian government protest in London. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special adviser on overseas Pakistanis, Zulfi Bukhari, had earlier appealed to the diaspora to observe August 15 as ‘Black Day’.
As part of Bukhari’s appeal, overseas Pakistanis had been requested to hold protests outside Indian embassies in their respective countries to show solidarity with the people of occupied Kashmir.
A Scotland Yard spokesperson had said Tuesday the forces were aware of the planned protest at noon on 15 August and had security arrangements in place. While Intelligence reports had suggested that the number of protestors would be in thousands, police refused to discuss the number of officers on duty.
A source, however, had revealed that over 200 police officers would be on duty to maintain the crowd and prevent any road blockings and clashes.
The 15 August protest was said to be joined by the diaspora from all political parties, uniting them — rarely — for the issue of Kashmir. Two pro-Khalistan Sikh groups and secular Indian organisations had also announced their plan to attend the protest.
In a statement, Bukhari had said it was a moral obligation of everyone to speak up for the Kashmiri brothers and sisters living in the challenging circumstances under the Nazi-like regime of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Pro-Modi Indian groups, on the other hand, had initially announced to hold a counter-demonstration but changed their plans after realising that pro-Kashmir protestors would be huge in numbers and things could spiral out of control.