by NADEEM BADSHAH
CALLS for a British boycott of Indian products following anger over Kashmir must not spill over into hate speech online and spark further tension between communities, MPs and shopkeepers have warned.
Images of Indian flags being burned have been posted on Twitter since prime minister Narenda Modi’s government withdrew Kashmir’s autonomy in August, sending in thousands of extra troops and making mass arrests.
There have been tweets calling for people to stop buying groceries such as rice, spices and chillies from Indian companies.
Some stores in the UK run by Pakistani businessmen are no longer selling food products from India, as they protest over the decision to revoke the special status of the Himalayan region.
The move has been backed by some, but other shop owners have warned a boycott will drive them out of business, adding that holding protests and giving donations to Kashmiris are better options.
There have been similar longrunning campaigns to boycott products from Israel over claims
of rights abuses.
One in four people in Pakistan’s Kashmir region live in poverty and do not have access to clean drinking water or food, according to the Islamic Relief charity.
Labour MP Shabana Mahmood told Eastern Eye: “I have spoken out repeatedly against the unacceptable, dangerous and discriminatory actions of the government of India in Kashmir. I will continue to campaign alongside fellow politicians and constituents for a reversal
of their divisive policies and for a stop to the human rights abuses that are occurring in Kashmir.
“But such campaigning must not spill over into hate speech, and attacks on ordinary people and workers because of the actions of their government are unacceptable and counter-productive. We must all guard against such behaviour, online and in our communities.”
There have been protests in London, Birmingham and Bradford in recent weeks after the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir. Two people were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage earlier this month after India’s High Commission in central London was vandalised.
Protesters last month clashed with police and supporters of India in front of India House, while four people were arrested following a demonstration on August 15, India’s Independence Day.
Usman Younas, who has run Watan Superstore in Bradford, West Yorkshire, since 1974, said a boycott would harm Pakistani store owners. He told Eastern Eye: “I understand where people are coming from and why they feel passionately about it. It has been an issue for 40-50 years.
“But 70 per cent of our goods are Indian – groceries, biscuits, drinks, hardware, spices, lentils, pulps, rice, ghee. If we were to start boycotting or our customers stop buying them, that would have an impact on suppliers.
“I don’t think it is maintainable in the long term. We could try and substitute some Indian goods, but it is a long shot – the Indian market is very strong while the Pakistani one is up and coming. It would be financially catastrophic, business-wise it is not realistic.”
Younas added: “In two months the situation will settle down, people will come back for those product lines and we won’t have it. We stock Indian lines because it’s what the customers want.
“There are other ways to protest – give your opinion online on social media, make a positive impact like charity work as they are in need of aid.
“All our suppliers are Hindus and Sikhs. We work well with them, [and] they have nothing to do with what is happening back home.”
Shahzad, who works in a supermarket in Bradford which has stopped selling some Indian items, said: “We used to buy Heera atta and chillies from India, but we stopped for the past few weeks.
“It is because of Kashmir. They are killing innocent people there.
“The products come from Kenya now, chillies and vegetables from Italy. The customers have not said anything.”
Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who was born in Kashmir, said his focus is the “human rights and civil liberties of the Kashmiri people”.
He added: “If individuals want to put pressure through economic means, that is their prerogative. They want the Indian government to listen. This shutdown and blackout cannot continue, it is wrong and dangerous for the people of Kashmir.
“Morally people feel this [boycott] is a way of getting the Indian government’s attention. It needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.”
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said earlier this month that any allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir since India revoked Article 370 of the constitution must be “thoroughly, promptly and transparently” investigated.
He told MPs: “In relation to detentions, potential mistreatment and also the communications blackouts, I raised those issues with the Indian foreign minister.
“The Indian government has made clear that they are only temporaneous, as strictly required.
And of course, we would want to hold them to that undertaking.
“Any allegations of human rights violations are deeply concerning. They must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.”
Some MPs have supported the Indian government’s move, with the Conservative politician Bob
Blackman saying that Article 370 discriminated against women and minorities.
India maintains that Kashmir must be resolved bilaterally between itself and Pakistan.