When a dye-tinted jet of water fired from a police truck stained the entrance to the Kowloon Mosque bright blue yesterday afternoon, it highlighted in quite literal fashion the often-overlooked place of Hong Kong’s South Asian community in the city’s months-long protest movement.
The mosque had been a focal point of yesterday’s protests even before the water cannon incident, with many fearing reprisals by protesters against the South Asian community after it came to light that the men who allegedly attacked pro-democracy protest organizer Jimmy Sham last week were of South Asian descent.
Instead of reprisals, however, protesters turned up to the mosque with signs urging others to respect religion, as South Asians at the nearby Chungking Mansions, long the home of many South Asian-owned shops and restaurants, handed out free water to the tens of thousands of protesters who had gathered to march in Tsim Sha Tsui in defiance of a police ban.
Dozens of protesters could be seen helping to clean up the mosque’s gates and sidewalk yesterday following the deployment of the dyed water cannon, which eyewitnesses said was aimed not at hardcore frontline protesters, but rather at a handful of worshipers, journalists, and peaceful participants holding placards.
Video from shared by Stand News* shows the water cannon truck stop outside the mosque, take aim, and fire a stream of water directly at the gates on the otherwise calm stretch of street, spraying those outside the mosque with a blue dye meant to help police identify protesters mixed with a pepper solution that causes skin irritation on contact.
There were only a handful of reporters and peaceful protesters holding signs — ironically telling others not to attack the mosque — outside the building at the time of the incident.
Aerial footage by the @appledaily_hk following the water cannon dispersal on Nathan Road.
btw, blue dyes showed no use, can they change it to normal colour so that janitors dont need to clean the streets that hard afterwards? Irritative materials are not blue right? pic.twitter.com/BWxmIKzOWf
— LO Kin-hei 羅健熙 (@lokinhei) October 20, 2019
Among those hit by the water cannon was Philip Khan, a South Asian businessman who grew up in Hong Kong and who recently announced that he had applied to run in the district council elections for Tsim Sha Tsui west.
“This is an insult and provocation towards the Muslim community,” he said to reporters in Cantonese outside the mosque. “The Basic Law protects all religion. Do they know how to respect religion? I‘m a Hongkonger; I can assure you it is the Police initiating violence. Not protesters.”
Outside the Kowloon mosque, Philip Khan condemn HK police and CE Carrie Lam in rage, saying the government is insulting Islam by spraying blue dye to the mosque using water cannon #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/DTVf6DjzFo
— Josie Wong (@JosieWonghk) October 20, 2019
Police later issued a statement claiming that the water cannon hit the mosque by mistake, calling it “most unfortunate that the dispersal operation has caused unintended impact on the Kowloon Mosque.”
Within minutes of the dye incident, protesters were on the scene, trying to clean up the water and blue dye from the mosque’s gate and steps.
Passerby helping to clean the mosque after the huge blast of blue water from the cannon. Muslim bystanders here shocked and offended that they would do this to their place of worship. HK people comforting them pic.twitter.com/a1rhlJbOZh
— Shibani Mahtani (@ShibaniMahtani) October 20, 2019
In addition to reiterating protesters’ longstanding five key demands, yesterday’s march was also explicitly aimed at expressing solidarity with Hong Kong’s South Asian community, long the victims of discrimination and often regarded as outsiders, even after more than a century and a half of having an established presence in the city.
Hours before the mosque incident, a handful members of the city’s South Asian community were handing out bottles of water and snacks to protesters on their way to the start of the rally in Salisbury Garden.
The group was led by comedian Vivek Mahbubani, known for his English and Cantonese stand-up sets tackling issues like racism in Hong Kong; and Jeff Andrews, Hong Kong’s first ethnic minority social worker.
Meanwhile, HK comedian Vivek Mahubani leads a chorus of Beyond's song beyond vast oceans, as members of HK's southeast Asian community gather outside Chungking mansions to hand out free water for protesters. "Chungking welcomes everybody!" #HongKongProstests #hongkong pic.twitter.com/vYi8wGtNvL
— Vicky Wong 黃瑋殷 (@vickywong710) October 20, 2019
One of the volunteers was 29-year-old Karthi Dureaiseami, who was born in India but has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years, and now calls the city home. Dureaiseami said he wanted show the city’s protesters that the South Asian community also had a stake in the city’s pro-democracy movement.
“We want to include ethnic minorities as well, because we are Hongkongers,” he said. “Recent events somehow might divide Hongkongers and among ourselves, so we don’t want that to happen.”
Referring to the attack on Jimmy Sham, allegedly carried out by paid South Asian assailants, Dureaiseami urged Hongkongers not to tar all South Asians with the same brush.
“In every race there are people who don’t obey the law,” he said. “We don’t want any tensions between ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, we because we are also Hongkongers, and we love you guys no matter what; we want you guys to love us at the same time.”
Sham has said he didn’t know what ethnicity the attackers were, but called for unity and solidarity.
“Do not label anyone by ethnicity in the movement,” he said. “I believe that, everyone who joins this path to democracy are our brothers and sisters, regardless of nationality, language, colour and race.”
Apparently sensitive to the potential for vandalism and attacks — increasingly common against businesses and people seen as unsympathetic to the movement — protesters put out the call on Reddit-like forum LIHKG and elsewhere urging people to not target places associated with the South Asian community, like Chungking Mansions and the Kowloon Mosque, calls that were apparently respected.
Before he got hit with the water cannon, Khan was standing on Nathan Road chanting, “Hongkongers, add oil!” as black-clad protesters filed into Salisbury Garden.
Khan told Coconuts HK he had just handed in his application to run in the upcoming district council elections, saying he chose to run because he wanted to speak up for Hong Kong’s English-speaking and ethnic minority communities, saying that the city’s South Asians have historically contributed a lot.
“Ethnic minorities are part of Hong Kong, and they have a history in Hong Kong,” he said. “I chose to run because I think we should have a voice in our community, and we are part of it.”
*CORRECTION: This article has amended to clarify that video of the water cannon spraying Kowloon Mosque was not filmed by Stand News, but shared by the outlet on their social media.