On August 5, 2019, India changed decades of status quo in Kashmir by putting in place a fresh and renewed system of repression. The right-wing government of Narendra Modi achieved this by abrogating sections of Article 370 and the whole of 35 (A) of the Indian constitution. Jammu and Kashmir, which was a full-fledged State, was divided into two union territories which are under the direct control of the Central government. New Delhi then imposed a harsh military clampdown in the region, instituting a communications blackout and arresting thousands of activists, politicians and youth to neutralize any sort of dissent.
There have been many analyses of why the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government took this step which led to fierce criticism, both domestically and internationally. One aspect critics have pointed out is that there is an attempt to replicate the Israeli model in the Kashmir valley.
Many similarities have been noted in the repressive policies followed by Israel and the Indian state, beginning from the introduction of pellet shotguns in 2010 to curb mass protests, to using civilians as human shields, and the formation of “safe zones” akin to Israel-type separate colonies for Hindus who had out-migrated from the region.
In April 2019, Indian authorities imposed a “security ban” on any civilian vehicle movement on the Baramulla-Jammu motorway. This arterial highway was closed down twice a week for any sort of civilian movement to facilitate the movement of army convoys plying the Kashmir region. The order was revoked in May 2019, though the restrictions remained in place between Udhampur and Srinagar. These are similar to the restrictions imposed in Gaza by the Israeli regime.
New Delhi also brought in domicile-related amendments on April 1, changing the State laws to redefine the eligibility criteria for becoming a domiciled citizen of the two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Amendments were also introduced removing the reservations that were earlier offered to locals in jobs and for buying of property. This decision was immediately connected by observers with the “larger idea of changing the demography” of Kashmir, which is a Muslim-majority region.
As of the last week of July, over 370,000 candidates have been approved for the citizenship certificate — around 290,000 and 79,300 in Jammu and Kashmir regions respectively. As per the renewed domicile laws, those citizens of India who have lived in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir for at least 15 years, including children of central government employees living there for at least 10 years, are now eligible to become Kashmiri subjects. This implies that after obtaining domicile certificates, these people can apply for government jobs and buy immobile property which was earlier reserved only for locals in the region.
A number of amendments to 138 Jammu and Kashmir State laws have been finalized through the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaption of State Laws) Order, 2020, as per the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs.
While the entire world was focused on containing the outbreak of COVID-19, prime minister Modi, who enjoys a cult following among the Indian masses, went ahead with these constitutional amendments. The domicile announcement was timed around the much hyped national lockdown in India. Initially under the newly notified law, only the lowest level of non-gazetted rank officials were given eligibility to become permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir. This was, however, changed overnight.
A general sense of apprehension still prevails regarding more attempts to bring in demographic and structural changes through such laws. The BJP-led government sees its measures as a necessary step for the full integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the union of India. However, the residents of Kashmir see the “act as a threat to their ethnicity, and to their existence.”
India has also been among the biggest clients of Israel in terms of buying arms, the value of which over the past decade has crossed the USD 10 billion mark. India also signed its largest defense deal of supplying medium range surface to air missiles to Israel in 2017.
Experts based in Kashmir are making comparisons between Jammu and Kashmir and occupied Palestine. According to several activists, academics and political observers within Kashmir, India has gone further ahead in adopting the Israeli policy of “establishing settlements within Jammu and Kashmir”, which is essentially seen as a structured attempt to eliminate natives.
Human rights defender Khurram Parvez notes that the concern among locals following the domicile amendments can’t be ignored as these legal changes will enable outsiders to claim a share in jobs and also to purchase land in the region, which is against the interest of the local people.
Similarly, Sheikh Showkat, the former head of the Department of Law at the Central University of Kashmir, believes that the decision has increased the level of fear among the Kashmiri populace, primarily because the amendments will not only hamper the employment opportunities for the young generation, but also “flood demographic change”.
As the noted Australian historian Patrick Wolfe argues in Settler Colonialism, obtaining land forms a major motivation of states who follow the modus operandi of colonialism. Wolfe points that the question of genocide is never too far from the discussions of settler colonialism as both are based on the idea of destruction and xenophobia.
Three decades of bloody history in Kashmir have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and combatants, ever since armed rebellion against Indian rule and counter-insurgency operations began in the 1990s. The gross violation of human rights within the Kashmir region due to heavy militarization has been substantiated by the facts and figures presented by various studies, including by bodies like the United Nations, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons.
Meanwhile, the ongoing developments, coupled with the ongoing cross-border skirmish between Indo-China at Line of Actual Control (in Ladakh province) and between Indo-Pakistan at Line of Control (in Macchil, Rajouri and Naugam sectors), are only adding to the agony of the local population and making their lives even more miserable.