'Free Kashmir' flag unfurled at meeting as Wakefield councillors back community

A 'Free Kashmir' flag was unfurled over the front of the public gallery.
A 'Free Kashmir' flag was unfurled over the front of the public gallery.

Councillors have thrown their support behind Wakefield's Kashmiri community, following recent troubles in the disputed region.

A demonstration took place outside the city's cathedral on Saturday, in response to the Indian government's decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomy last month.

This demonstration took place on Saturday, outside Wakefield Cathedral.

This demonstration took place on Saturday, outside Wakefield Cathedral.

Five civilians have since died in an army crackdown, the Guardian has reported, and phone and internet access has been severely restricted.

At a full council meeting at County Hall on Wednesday, a 'Free Kashmir' flag was draped over the front of the public gallery in the council chamber, where several people of South Asian origin sat and listened to proceedings.

And Labour councillor Kevin Swift suggested that the local authority write to the Foreign Office, Indian High Commissioner and the United Nations to urgently address the situation.

Putting forward a motion on the issue, Coun Swift said: "I do think it's wholly appropriate that this council expresses a view on the matter.

"We've long taken an interest in Kashmir over the years and we've undertaken civic visits to Kashmir.

"I think we should play our part flagging up this issue and expressing our support for our local community."

Coun Swift said that the troubles in the region, which lies between undisputed Indian and Pakistani territory, could be linked back to the British Empire's botched exit from the area in the late 1940s.

The extrication, was he said, "At best, messy, and at worst, a human catastrophe".

Several elected members agreed and said that the people of Kashmir should have the right to self-determination.

Labour Cabinet member Margaret Isherwood said she'd attended Saturday's demonstration and told the chamber how she'd explained the issue to several passers-by. This, she said, showed that awareness needed to be raised.

She added: "I've seen the reports and I've also seen a video of two men who were dragged off the street, electrocuted and tortured, merely because they were Muslims living in this territory.

"As a human being you cannot accept that."

The motion received cross party support, with Conservative group leader Nadeem Ahmed and Liberal Democrat councillor Tom Gordon, both speaking on the subject.

Coun Ahmed said: "I think it's important to note that there is opposition within India to the stance that their government has taken, which is good."

Local Democracy Reporting Service