HUNDREDS of protesters gathered in Bolton to stand in solidarity with the people of Kashmir.

On Saturday activists marched from Heywood Park in Great Lever to Victoria Square to show their support as tensions have once again flared up in the disputed region after the Indian government stripped the area of its special status. 

The march had been organised by a number of interfaith, religious and campaign groups, including Stop the War Coalition, Pakistan-Kashmir Society, Thinkers Forum, British Kashmir Forum and Bolton Council of Mosques.

Once in Victoria Square the crowd heard speeches from councillors, politicians and community leaders. 

Among the speakers was Munazah Andrabi, who grew up in Kashmir before moving to the UK three years ago.
Addressing the crowd, she told them of the horrors being experienced by her family and others currently in the region, including no access to means of communication and young boys and men “disappearing into thin air” leaving their relatives unsure whether they are “alive, dead or in jail”.

Ms Andrabi said she fears there may soon be bloodshed in Kashmir and called for a Kashmiri right to self-determination and on Britain and the international community to intervene.

“Britain has a moral responsibility here,” she said. “This did not start 17 days ago, it started in 1947 when Britain left India.”

The crowd also heard from the leader of Bolton Council, Councillor David Greenhalgh, who attacked the current situation in Kashmir saying “there is no place for hatred in today’s society”.

He further spoke of Bolton’s heritage of people working together and pledged to write to the foreign secretary on behalf of the council to highlight the concerns of Kashmiri residents in the town.

Sitting in the foothills of the Himalayas, Kashmir’s status has been disputed since the partition of India in 1947 with both India and Pakistan staking a claim to the Muslim-majority territory.

The issue has led the countries to conflict and two wars — most recently in 1999 — however the region was given some measures of independence and special status from 1954.

This has since been eroded away and on August 5 the Indian government revoked the special status reigniting the tensions.

Bolton has a significant Kashmiri population with many more residents having familial ties to the region.

Imran Rashid, who helped organise the march, said: “There was a good turn out with good comments made by our speakers.

"A lot of people came out to show their support, and not just those with links to Kashmir but also people from India.

"This was about getting people to stand up and recognise what is happening in that area.

"It is not about pressure it is about a request to leading politicians to use their influence to help people being persecuted, being held captive in their own land, and give them the right to self-determination.”