‘Naya Kashmir’ under a Covid Lockdown: A State of Disenfranchisement and Disregard
The 6th of November recorded 97 thousand positive cases of Covid-19 in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Whilst Prime Minister Modi proudly exclaimed that India is “standing firmly in selflessness without any distinction, to save the life of every Indian”, J&K’s population of 12 million continues to desperately suffer under a militarised lockdown, with the lowest available medical aid in India. At a rate of 1 doctor to 3060 people, 1,300 nurses against a requirement of 3,193, an insufferably limited internet speed and severe lack of protective medical gear, the reality of J&K begs the question: what selflessness is Modi exactly showering over his newly acclaimed Union Territory?
Amidst enabling a wide scale deprivation of health care in J&K, the Indian government has accelerated a systematic process of settler colonialism. What the BJP president Nadda proclaims is a law that “spreads dignity and equality, giving long due rights to all” is a blatant disregard of Kashmiri life through the introduction of a domicile law. Paired with the major changes to several major land laws, this qualifies a legitimation of an ongoing de facto situation.
On the face of it, the domicile rules create a new category of non-Kashmiri domiciles eligible for permanent Kashmiri citizenship. Celebrated as a ‘humanitarian gesture’, eligible groups include previously persecuted communities such as refugees from West Pakistan and members of the Valmiki community. Yet, suspicion arises as to why eligibility extends to central government employees, Indian armed forces personnel and their children.
To apply for domicile, non-Kashmiris are required to provide any proof of residence upon receival of which a district officer issues a domicile certificate, whereas Kashmiri natives must evidence their original Permanent Resident Certificates (PRC). Failure to prove residency through this document that many natives no longer possess, can render them stateless and lead to a forcible transfer outside of Kashmir. Non-Kashmiris already enjoy a fast track provision of domicile, which is made increasingly efficient through the strict 15 day time limit the district officer must follow, or otherwise face a hefty 50,000 Rupee fine (£510). Yet Kashmiri diaspora who do not possess an existing PRC, are automatically barred from obtaining domicile if they have not lived in the region for 15 years or have not been employed by the Indian government for 10 years. Comparatively, children of Indian citizens who have neither lived, studied or likely even visited J&K, are eligible for domicile. It must be asked of Nadda then, what ‘equality’ is spread from the 1700 domicile certificates that have been issued to Indian citizens without any proof of residence provided by an applicant? Or what ‘dignity’ is upheld of the Kashmiri diaspora who are forcefully outlawed from their native land?
The rights provided upon obtaining domicile include those of political power, voting rights and the right to gain limited sought after jobs in the region. What Nadda comfortably fails to mention is that the provision of these exclusive rights to Indian citizens was not ‘long due’, but that such rights were maintained specifically so that the little autonomy left for Kashmiris in J&K could be protected against occupying groups like Indian citizens. Rights that are now in the hands of an estimated 2 million non-Kashmiris. Rights that appeal to the Hindutva ideology of a ‘positive integration’ of Indians in Kashmir, a cloak to erode distinct Kashmiri identity. Where ¼ of J&K’s native population consisting mainly of university graduates and women are unemployed and domicile is mandatory for employment opportunities; the Indian government’s urgency in dispensing citizenship to non-Kashmiris, at a rate that prevents any resistance from Kashmiris, sets the stage for a whole scale disenfranchisement.
This reality completely rebuts the J&K’s Lieutenant governor’s claim that demographic change is an ideology that, “The people of Jammu and Kashmir have been fed psychologically”. Not only do the stark differences in the domicile application process symbolise demographic change, but as do the recent amendments and repeals in land laws. The central protection for Kashmiri natives under article 35A to exclusively buy immovable property in J&K had already been eradicated in 2019. Now, the changes to land laws seek to completely do away with any clauses that vested land rights exclusively with permanent Kashmiri citizens.
Since October 31st, major land laws including the J&K Land Grants Act 1960, the J&K Alienation of Land Act 1938, the J&K Agrarian Reforms Act 1976 and most notably the J&K Land Revenue Act 1996 have been affected. Changes within these legislations allow such drastic measures including possession of any land in J&K to any resident in India, the transfer of agricultural land by an individual or the Indian government for “any public use” including the government’s “development objectives”, and the possession of any land in J&K by armed forces after declaring it as “strategic”. What these broad, vague and overarching amendments have been enabled for is the unaccountable pillaging of regional control Kashmiris have left, to the hands of an encroaching government.
Notably, within the J&K Development Act, the creation of the J&K Industrial Development Corporation which has powers to acquire, sell and transfer any land and hold immunity from any legal challenge from aggrieved victims is defended as a “major step towards the development and progress of J&K”. Harbouring insidious similarities to the powers of the Israel Land Authority (ILA) which has brutally occuppied 93% of Palestinian land; the Indian government has positioned itself to devastate rather than ‘develop’ every Kashmiri owned land for the maximisation of non-Kashmiri communities.
With online auctions selling mining contracts being acquired by non Kashmiris with stable internet connection and deforestation of land having begun for new domiciles; ‘Naya Kashmir’ promises militarised settlements, dispossession, a complete alienation of land and an eradication of a Kashmir that will never be just for Kashmiris.