UK Indians mark independence with celebrations and protests

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on August 15, 2017

Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in London’s Parliament Square

Independence Day was marked by celebrations and protests in London on Tuesday as several hundred members of Britain’s Indian diaspora gathered in central London late on Monday to participate in the first “Freedom run” at midnight, while a number of social justice and rights groups planned protests for the evening over the events at Gorakhpur hospital, the recent mob lynchings and treatment of minority groups in India.

The freedom run — along a mile long track from the Mahatma Gandhi Statue on Parliament Square to India Place by the Indian High Commission, was organised by the High Commission, which hopes to continue the tradition in coming years, gradually on a larger scale.

With numbers of places limited due to security and safety concerns, the High Commission approached community organisations from across the religions to participate. “We never thought we’d get this level of interest for an event at midnight,” said Deputy High Commissioner Dinesh Patnaik.

“We wanted to do something that was different this time. The idea of the tryst with destiny at midnight from the British seat of democracy to the high commission is hugely symbolic, representing our pledge to achieve freedom from illiteracy, communalism, terrorism, poverty — bringing together these elements really captures the imagination.”

An estimated 500 participants, including young children, carried flashing torches with the colours of the flag, as they walked or jogged along the waterfront to India Place by the High Commission.

Warm wishes from UK

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson extended his “warmest wishes” to the people of India and the diaspora in Britain. “Our two countries are committed to working together to promote our people’s prosperity, improve global security and tackle global challenges that we face today.” The run up to Independence Day has seen media outlets across Britain devoting pages and airtime to independence, the experiences of those who lived through partition, and (to a lesser extent) Britain’s imperial history and legacy.

A silent march is due to take place in central London (after this paper goes to print) to raise diaspora concerns about the factors that brought about the deaths in Gorakhpur and the growing intolerance across the country, including mob lynchings and the treatment of dalits.

The South Asia Solidarity Group, Caste Watch UK, SOAS (university)’s India group, and others are set to carry large placard with images of some of those who have been killed including 17-year-old Junaid Khan, killed on the Mathura bound train. Several hundred are expected to attend.

“We wanted to highlight the fact that there are many in the diaspora who are completely opposed to what is happening and are willing to take a stance,” said Kalpana Wilson, a spokesperson for the South Asia Solidarity Group.

“We are all really disturbed and concerned about the extent of the violence taking place, particularly this epidemic of mob action. And what is frightening is that the government seems to be complicit in it. We feel it’s a symbolic day when its the 70th anniversary of Independence, the country seems to have been transformed into a republic of fear.”

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Published on August 15, 2017
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