LONDON: Hundreds of Sikh and Kashmiri protesters observed a black day on Sunday by gathering outside the Indian High Commission here as India marked its Republic Day.
Demonstrators from across London as well as Birmingham and other cities traveled to Aldwych on coaches and buses, carrying placards and banners calling out the Narendra Modi-led Indian government’s atrocities in held Kashmir.
The groups said the Indian government’s celebration of Republic Day is hypocritical as it continues to impose a curfew and communications blackout in the occupied territory to suppress dissent.
The Tehreek-e-Kashmir UK, Khalistan Movement UK and World Sikh Parliament jointly organised the demonstration outside the Indian High Commission.
Indian envoy’s move to block demonstration fails
“India has no moral right to observe January 26 as Republic Day when it has turned the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir into a jail and media has been gagged against reporting from the occupied territory since August 5, 2019,” said Faim Kayani, the president of TeK UK, adding that a protest against India’s Republic Day will send a good message to the people living under siege that they are not alone in their struggle.
In the weeks leading up to the protest, Indian diplomats in the UK made several attempts to block the Sunday protest by writing to the city authorities and expressing fears of violence. The Indian envoy to the UK, Ruchi Ghanashyam, told Indian media she had “raised concerns” over the planned protest. “It’s true that we have raised our concerns with the Home Secretary [Priti Patel] of the UK. We did so because we are concerned about the people of our diaspora and officials of the high commission who would be coming for the flag hoisting for ceremony on this very important occasion”.
Ms Ghanashyam also approached the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as well as Scotland Yard to attempt to ban the protest against India’s Republic Day.
But in a setback for the Indian mission, the UK authorities decided not to issue any ban on the protesters as organisers pledged that the demonstrations would be non-violent.
Mr Kayani said the organisers assured the London police that the diaspora will be exercising their democratic right to protest and that the community will remain peaceful.
“We shall ask all of our participants to protest within the law and to cooperate with police in carrying out their duties. It is clear that India has made efforts to ban this protest for purely political reasons.”
The Narendra Modi-led government in India last year scrapped the special status of India-held Kashmir and imposed a curfew and media blackout in the valley. Republic Day celebrations in held Kashmir saw an additional deployment of troops. The Hindu reported that roads in the city were sealed by police and paramilitary forces, and only vehicles with special passes were allowed to move freely, leading to boycott of the main official function by a group of scribes who alleged harassment in the name of security.
With three former chief ministers — National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti — still under detention in Srinagar, the only prominent face among the politicians at the official function was Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina.
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2020