British Indian Groups Condemn Kashmir Protests in London on Diwali as 'Hinduphobia and Racism'
London: An umbrella group representing over 100 British Indian organisations on Sunday condemned the "Free Kashmir" demonstration by pro-Pakistani groups, planned to coincide with Diwali, as an act of Hinduphobia and racism.
As part of a counter-campaign, the group said it had hired a digital billboard vehicle to traverse central London streets to spread the "inclusive and universal" message of the festival.
"The fact that this protest is occurring on the same day as Diwali is an act of Hinduphobia and racism," noted a collective statement issued by the groups.
"It is equivalent to an antisemitic group demonstrating on the holy day of Hannukkah or an anti-Muslim group demonstrating on Eid. This is why many British Indian individuals and community groups are upset," it said, welcoming London Mayor Sadiq Khan's call for the protesters to cancel their plans.
"This request was refused. The Pakistani demonstration is trying to divide people in the UK, especially on religious grounds. Instead of the nuanced debate needed on Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, they are inciting religious and ethnic hatred on the streets of London by hijacking the festival of Diwali," the statement said.
The message hit social media as a number of pro-Pakistani and separatist groups plan to kickstart a march across Parliament Street as part of the so-called "Free Kashmir" protest held annually on October 27, as the "Black Day" when Indian troops allegedly entered the then princely kingdom of Kashmir in 1947.
Following widespread concerns raised across the board, including in the House of Commons, Scotland Yard had imposed strict restrictions on the route of the march to deny permission for it to culminate before the Indian High Commission in London.
The Metropolitan Police imposed the pre-event conditions under Sections 12 and 14 of the UK Public Order Act, which refer to preventing serious disruption to the community, and warned that failure to adhere to the conditions could lead to arrest and prosecution.
"We understand that this is a significant anniversary date for those protesting, and also recognise this falls on the important Hindu festival of Diwali. My intention on the day will be to balance the rights of those protesting with those who may be affected by it. We will take all necessary steps to prevent crime and disorder," said Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, the Gold Commander in charge of the policing operation.
Twist reiterated this message in a reply to Pakistani-origin peer, Lord Nazir Ahmed, who is one of the key organisers of the protest and had called for the restrictions to be lifted in a letter to the Met Police.
In his reply, Commander Twist said, "To be clear I have not in any way sought to ban the pro-Kashmiri protest. In order to minimise serious disruption to the community, I have asked for the pre-event conditions. This has only been done to ensure we correctly balance the rights of those who want to protest, with those in wider London who may be disproportionately affected by the serious disruption it would cause."
The Indian High Commission in London had issued a diplomatic "note verbale" seeking appropriate safety measures following clashes involving similar protesters, which had caused damage to India House on August 15 during Indian Independence Day celebrations.
The restricted route prevents the protesters from assembly anywhere near the Indian mission in Aldwych and must culminate at Trafalgar Square instead.
The organisers of the protest march, including groups such Muslim Action Forum, World Muslim Federation, Pakistan Patriotic Front, Overseas Pakistan Welfare Council, had expressed their anger at the restrictions and even threatened court action.
According to the Met Police details on the permissions sought for the proposed march, an estimated 5,000-10,000 protesters are expected to turn out for the march from across the UK. The London Mayor has pledged a "robust" policing plan to deal with any violence or breaches of the strict conditions imposed on the protesters.