Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Luton in protest after Kashmir's independent status was revoked by India.
The Indian government has revoked Article 370, effectively stripping the disputed region of Kashmir of its autonomy from the rest of India.
The situation has been compared to being in “an open prison” by a community representative in Luton. Tensions are high in the Kashmir region, and it is being reported that there is no internet or telephone links and severe restrictions on movement within the state.
On Friday, August 9, over 1,500 people marched from Luton Central Mosque in Westbourne Road to Luton Town Hall, where several rallying speeches were made.
Akbar Dad Khan, who chairs the community group Building Bridges, said: “This is to highlight the violation of human rights in the Indian part of Kashmir. There has been a 24-hour curfew for almost a week and anybody seen on the streets is threatened with being shot.”
Indian troops have been seen gathering close to Kashmir’s borders with India and Pakistan.
Mr Dad Khan added: “Any incident can spark of an ugly situation, India should lift the curfew and allow Kashmir to be reconnected with the outside world.
“All the bazaars, shopping centres and commercial activities are at a standstill, people are beginning to suffer from a shortage of medicines and food.
“They can’t get in touch with the world outside and nobody can get in touch with them. It’s an open prison.”
Friday's protests across England were aimed at putting pressure on the UK government to use its influence to resolve the dispute. Support for the cause has been echoed by Luton's two MPs and senior councillors.
Luton South MP Gavin Shuker wrote to the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab: "I hope you are as alarmed and outraged by the decision to revoke the Article 370 special status bestowed on Jammu and Kashmir as I am.
"I urge you to use your office to publicly condemn all the actions of the Indian government, taken by Indian Presidential Order, and to initiate all processes available to you..."
Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins also wrote to the Foreign Secretary, adding: "My constituents are worried about human rights violations in relation to the actions of the Indian army troops and reports of the house arrests of Kashmiri leaders and banning of public gatherings.
"I understand the Indian army have used cluster bombs and pellet guns to suppress dissent which is clearly unacceptable."
Mr Dad Khan likened the current situation to the period before the 1965 war between Pakistan and India.
He said: "Nobody wants a war. I can see similarities to the situation which resulted in the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. In that war I lost two of my uncles.
"There’s no need for the massive military expenditure which is linked with this.”
The clampdown on Kashmir has been condemned by Pakistan and some Indian opposition politicians.
Speaking after the protest, Luton Borough Council's chief executive Robin Porter urged communities to come together in a show of unity.
He said: " [I] want to reassure all local people that the protest was not in any way aimed at people of Indian heritage, especially the wonderful local Indian communities of which there are over 10,000 living in our town.
“While concerns were raised by the protesters over the recent decision of the Indian government to the special status of the disputed territory, the organisers themselves were clear to us from the outset that their protest was about showing solidarity and they wanted local Indian and other communities to be reassured of this fact.
“We are all worried about the ongoing situation in the region and hope for a peaceful resolution. Decisions of international governments do not reflect decisions in the UK, however the Leader of the Council and our Mayor wrote to the Foreign Secretary on Friday requesting urgent action with the United Nations so that a peaceful and diplomatic solution can be found for the people of Kashmir and for long-term stability in the region.
“During these difficult times I urge all communities to come together to respect, value and celebrate our rich diversity which makes Luton such a wonderful and vibrant town; and continue to support the pledge of #LutonInHarmony and spread this message in our daily lives.”
The Luton in Harmony campaign encourages residents and businesses to wear the badge with pride, make friends with people from different backgrounds and life experiences and learn about their values and promote peace and harmony in our communities. For more information see www.lutoninharmony.co.uk/.