After winning the elections in 2019, the BJP led government of India wasted no time to bring in the required legislative bill ‘J&K Reorganisation Act 2019”, that has provisions to reorganise the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, one to be called Jammu and Kashmir, and the other Ladakh.
The introduction of the bill was preceded by a Presidential Order under Article 370 of the Indian constitution revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, and mandating, inter alia, that all the provisions of the Indian Constitution would be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir. This enabled the parliament to enact the legislation reorganising the state.
Removing Article 370 (a temporary and transitional article of Indian Constitution) for the last 65 plus years had so far been a No-Go area for all the political parties in power primarily due to a lack of clear-cut strategy on Kashmir and this was always compounded by the lack of confidence in successive governments in dealing with any-backlash at the local, national or international arena.
This, despite the fact that Pakistan had in these years already changed the demographic and constitutional provisions in the part of Pakistan controlled by them a number of times including gifting a large portion of Shaksgam valley and Aksai-Chin to China.
The run-up to and the events following the passing of the legislative changes on 5th Aug 2019 in both houses of the Indian Parliament with a substantial majority, have been unprecedented. Jammu Kashmir has been in a state of clampdown since 5th August with restriction of movement in place and primary communication channels blocked.
This has, of course been done at the local administration level to ensure that Law and Order is maintained and more importantly there is no Loss of Life because of any immediate backlash. It is well-known that a number of vested interests are actively engaged in Kashmir region and most of these parties are extremely high on propaganda, specially the Pakistan deep-state and ISI funded groups who would not spare a minute to flare up the emotions and create chaos among communities.
This has also meant that a number of state political groups and their representative have either been under house arrest or have been detained to ensure a) they are not made target of any sectarian violence b) the groups that have affiliations with Pak-sponsored networks are not able to mobilise elements to create any panic.
Pakistan responded furiously to India’s decision to amend the articles of its own constitution, with Pakistani newspapers splashing headlines like ‘India Occupies Indian Occupied Kashmir by Abrogating 370’. There couldn’t be anything more oxymoron than this headline that caught my eye, clearly highlighting the utter confusion and lack of direction on how to respond to Mr Modi’s latest move on Kashmir.
What has made matters more embarrassing for the Pakistan PM is that this step by Indian government came right on the back of Imran Khan’s much trumpeted positive interactions with US President Trump in Washington just a few days back. Mr Khan travelled to POK on 14th August (Pak’s Independence Day) and made a scathing attack on India threatening to “teach Delhi a lesson” and vowed to fight until the end.
Mr Khan also asked Pakistani’s world over to mark India’s Independence day on 15th August as a ‘Black Day’. He gave a clarion call to the British Pakistani diaspora and POK residents in UK to protests against India in London, essentially sowing the seeds and instigating the diaspora to react. Consequently, 15 August 2019 saw some unprecedented scenes outside India House (High Commission of India, UK) in London.
More than 3000 plus Pakistani origin protestors from various UK towns with substantial Pakistani diaspora population like Luton, Bradford, Birmingham etc were shipped in chartered buses to head towards High Commission in London. These protestors were armed with Potatoes, Crates of Eggs, Avocados, Water Bottles, Smoke balls and what not. The Indian community representatives had assembled at the high commission to celebrate the Independence-day with Cultural programs including song and dance performances of women and young kids.
The protestors mobbed the High Commission from both sides, ran over the roads, blocked all vehicular traffic around the area and surrounded the Indian gathering from all sides. They blocked the both entrances of the High Commission to ensure nobody could escape and also cut-out the wires for the DJ so that there are no mikes or loudspeakers playing from those celebrating the Independence-day. The police and administration also seemed extremely ill prepared for what was happening.
While the mounted cavalry was trying its best to keep the protesters away from the gathering and the High Commission building on one side, the protestors on the other end of the building were closing in. The Police officer incharge expressed his inability to do anything more given the sheer number of protestors and their hostilities.
After a number of SOS calls to 999 from the concerned parents and exchanges with some of the dignitaries including the High Commissioner finally after 2 hours police – reinforcements came along and pushed one side of the protestors out and enabled for the back door of the High Commission to be opened so that the Kids and Women could be safely evacuated. These kids as young as 4 had a frightening few hours and had nothing to eat or drink as well.
They were constantly attacked with all the projectiles including eggs, potatoes etc with a number of people getting injured on their head, faces and body as well. But more than the injuries it was the sheer mental torture and the feeling that there is no escape route that created a sense of panic among the people and specially the kids.
Speaking to some parents later in the evening they vowed to never again participate in Independence Day celebrations in Central London at the High Commission. For the people living in a city like London which is supposed to be safe for communities and is known for its diversity, it was indeed a Black Day and a blot on the organisers of these protests.
There were a few arrests made in the end including a protestor caught with a Sword. The protestors were shouting offensive slogans and also body shaming women and heckling them. Never before in any protest in London had anyone experienced this kind of heckling, aggressiveness and violence.
The Freedom (Azadi) expressed by these roudy protestors by attacking women and kids seemed to replicate in their slogans and banners which said
“Azadi = Kashmir Banega Pakistan (Freedom = Kashmir will become Pakistan).
“Azadi (Freedom) = La Ilaha Illallah”.
All of this begs a few questions from the Mayor of London and from the world community: • How and why were more then 3000 plus protestors allowed to congregate in a space less than 0.2-square mile area despite having pre-information on the possible ruckus, specially given Pakistan PM’s instigator speech the day before directly to the UK Pakistani diaspora?
• Normally for any event to take place in London, the authorities have clear information on the number of people, timings etc and there are clear rules on do’s and don’ts and all of these seem to have been floundered on 15th August by the Pakistani groups protesting outside Indian High Commission, and police seemed clueless. Did the administration drop a ball?
• How were all these protestors allowed to carry projectiles like Crates and crates of eggs, potatoes, avocados, smoke balls, sticks etc?
• Why did it take more than 2 hours to send reinforcements to the location when the police was not able to control the Pakistan protestors?
• Where is the accountability and action to ban the organisations and their supporters who carried out these protests given the amount of anarchy they caused on the streets of London and terrorised a peaceful gathering of less than 200 Indians celebrating India’s Independence-day at Indian High Commission in London?
• Why has the Mayor of London stayed quiet since despite having full knowledge of the mayhem on 15th August?
Serious questions need to be asked to the organisers of this protest in terms of how the hooliganism was allowed at the mass level? How protestors were allowed to carry projectiles to throw at protestors?
How the city administration was clueless on numbers of protestors? How they allowed such a large gathering coming in from many towns in buses to assemble in such a small/dense space and to ensure any collusion in the turn of events is identified and any future occurrences are avoided?
Vinod Tikoo is a Digital IT leader and a community activist based in London. A Kashmiri Hindu, born and brought up in Kashmir, Vinod represents the Jammu and Kashmir Study Centre, UK. The Centre is an advocacy and think tank on J&K. Vinod is also associated with the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society, UK; a leading voice of Kashmiri Pandits in the UK.