Bristol residents from the Pakistani Community have launched weekly protests in the city.
The group are raising awareness about the current situation in the Indian state of Kashmir.
This follows the Indian government revoking article 370, a clause in the constitution which gave the region special autonomy. With Indian troops moving in, there have been reports of human rights violations and people being denied freedom to move.
The protesters, many who have family ties connected to Kashmir, hope to see Bristol take a lead on the issue and put pressure on political leaders in the country.
The history of Kashmir is a complicated one. In 1947 during partition as the British left, the region was divided, this resulted in two wars and an ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan over the northern state.
Today there are claims to the region laid by both countries and eastern parts to China.
In Indian administered Kashmir the state has benefitted from article 370 of the Indian constitution which grants a ‘special status’, allowing a degree of autonomy, including its own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications.
But on August 5, this changed, when India removed Kashmir of its statehood and special constitutional provisions, a decision which the Indian PM Narendra Modi said would restore the region to its “past glory.”
A communications blackout was imposed and protests are thought to have occurred daily.
Pakistan has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, saying the move by India’s Hindu nationalist-led government threatens international peace and could lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Here in Bristol members of the Bristol Kashmir Foundation, are lobbying politicians and protesting each week in the centre of the city, hoping to see the UK government put pressure on the UN.
Farooque Siddique , who’s ancestral home is in the Pakistani controlled side of Kashmir, known as Azad Kashmir, said: “We are raising awareness of the decision by Modhi to annex Kashmir. This has been done by shutting down all communications in and out of the country. Landlines, mobiles, broadband are all shut down.
“Eight million people are in effect locked in their homes. Protesting is banned.
“So we are doing our bit here and hoping to pressure our local MPs to raise awareness of the issue in parliament and demand the immediate lifting of the siege.”
Farooque feels strongly that the international community needs to act.
He continued: “Despite the lockdown there are stories being leaked out and they are of serious concern.
Local businessman and chair of Easton Jamia Mosque Abdul Malik is coordinating some of the protests and shares Farooque’s fears.
He said: “Most people in Bristol are from the Azad Kashmir but have family ties to Jammu Kashmir (the Indian side). My forefathers for example belonged to the region, and everyone is very worried.
“The lockdown meant that overnight Kashmiri people were denied basic rights.”
The situation for Abdul has now transcended the political history of the region and is about basic and fundamental human rights.
He said: “Regardless of the politics of the region, I feel we must all raise awareness of what the Indian government are doing.
“Our protests in Bristol are designed to unite the community to hold politicians to account. Politicians can represent our views to the UN and ultimately, the media and these politicians need to help the current situation, and communicate these possible human rights violations.”
The councillor for Easton, Afzal Shah, is of Kahmiri heritage and has been attending the protests.
He said: “As a local councillor of Kashmiri heritage, it is particularly heartbreaking to witness India’s far right ‘nationalist’ BJP led government tear up article 370.”
Mr Shah has used his position to petition the political leaders in the city on this issue.
He added: “After contacting all four of Bristol’s MPs, I received a very prompt response from Kerry McCarthy MP who is a long advocate of better human rights in the region, and Thangam Debbonaire who has subsequently sent a letter to Dominic Rab, the Foreign Secretary.”
He has also facilitated a recent community meeting with the Bristol West MP, and local community leaders, and is confident that Bristol will respond to the crisis ‘constructively.’
He continued: ”Bristol as a city of sanctuary can continue to collect the voices of the oppressed.
“Education and the need to raise awareness about the systematic genicide in India held by Kashmir is vitally important, and we need to see declared old UN resolutions being upheld.”
Protests for Kashmir will take place each Friday at 4pm by the fountains in Bristol city centre.
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