Why Indian-occupied-Kashmir is on the road to settler colonialism

Source — Al Jazeera | Credit:[Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

The Indian government enacted a new permanent residency law in Indian-administered Kashmir on April 4, 2020, allowing Indian citizens to obtain property and permanent residency in the region, which many Kashmiris see as a path towards settler colonialism.

This new residency law comes after the revocation of Article 370 and 35A in Indian-administered Kashmir by the Modi-led BJP government, which stripped the state of its autonomy on August 5, 2019

Since the revocation, around 700,000 troops were injected into the region and a lockdown was imposed following the revocation and it is currently under lockdown for over a year, with a very slow resumption of communication channels.

What happened?

Since Article 35A, which specified the permanent residency status has been revoked, the government now has to define a new law for residency in the region. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill (2020), the amended residency law allows government civil servants and their children to obtain property and permanent residency benefits for non-Kashmiris from the rest of India.

Under the Bill, anyone from the rest of India who has;

1) resided for 15 years in the UT of J&K or has studied for 7 years and appeared in Class 10th/12th examination in an educational institution located in the UT of J&K; or

2) is registered as a migrant by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner (Migrants) in the UT of J&K, is eligible for permanent residency in the State.

It also includes the children of government civil servants from several different government departments. Also, it includes children of residents who live outside the UT of J&K due to their employment or business or other professional and vocational reasons, but the parents fulfil the conditions.

Since the revocation, the state has been under lockdown with nearly 700,000 troops. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as nearby Ladakh, has been bifurcated into two separate union territories with a legislature, bringing it directly under the control of the Central government.

What is the history behind Kashmir’s special status?

At the time of the Partition in 1947, the last ruler of the Dogra dynasty, Maharaja Hari Singh had to decide to join either the Dominion of India or the newly-created Pakistan. However, the maharaja did not want to side with either and signed a Standstill Agreement with both India and Pakistan, of which the latter signed but the former wanted further deliberation on the dispute.

In 1948, Pashtun forces from Pakistan annexed a part of Kashmir under the “two-nation theory” of Mohamed Ali Jinnah where he envisioned a Muslim-majority Pakistan and a Hindu-majority India.

The same year, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India took the disputed matter to the United Nations Security Council where he appealed for a decision.

It was later decided in 1948 at the UN that Kashmir can either choose to join Pakistan or India or be independent and that a plebiscite should be held to determine the fate of Kashmiris — which has not happened until now.

Maharaja Hari Singh could not handle the Pakistani forces from infiltrating into the region of Kashmir and sought India’s help to quell the infiltration.

India wanted Kashmir to accede to its dominion and so, Hari Singh agreed to accede to India under the condition that Kashmir remains independent from India and signed the Instrument of Accession under which over time, the region would be independent. On 1949, Article 370 came into effect, exempting the state of Indian-administered Kashmir from Indian laws granting the region the right to define its constitution, a separate flag and denied property ownership and citizenship. Following that, in 1954, Article 35A was introduced through a presidential order and allowed Kashmir to define the permanent residents of the region.

Why has the special status been revoked?

The 2019 election manifesto of the BJP reads on Page 12:

We [the BJP] are committed to annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state. We will take all steps to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for all residents of the state. We will make all efforts to ensure the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits, and we will provide financial assistance for the resettlement of refugees from West Pakistan, Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) and Chhamb.

Another important reason for its revocation is the ideology of Hindutva (translated “Hinduness”, which the BJP firmly supports. Hindutva was advocated by V.D Savarkar, the founder of the ideology. He, in his book, Who is a Hindu? outlines his definition of a Hindu, who was a person who “counted the territory of India (including what was then-British India) as the land of their forefathers and their holy land” — effectively assimilating Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs who would be known as Hindus and sidelining Abrahamic faiths such as Islam and Christianity.

A right-wing political party named the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) was found based on the ideology, which would become the present-day BJP. The BJS firmly opposed the enactment of Article 370 and the founder of which, Syama Prasad Mookherjee launched an agitation against the adoption and was detained and arrested.

This is also reiterated in the manifesto which said:

In the last five years, we have made all necessary efforts to ensure peace in Jammu and Kashmir through decisive actions and firm policy. We are committed to overcoming all obstacles that come in the way of development and provide adequate financial resources to all the regions of the state. We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370.

Savarkar initiated Hindutva as a political philosophy during the independence struggle against the British. He wanted to unite the Hindus, who were then divided, against the Muslims, who were demanding a separate Muslim homeland (present-day Pakistan). Most of Savarkar’s information regarding Muslims were derived from orientalist history claiming that Muslims were the “original” despoilers of an ancient and glorious Hindu civilisation, adding that the weakness of Hindus was due to their repeated “enslavement” and their accommodating attitude throughout history and saw the non-violent freedom struggle of Gandhi as a part of the same weakness that brought India to its knees.

According to Hindutva, the idea of Akhand Bharat (Unbroken India) is eminent. It means that because it was part of Unbroken India, it is not possible for Kashmir to have a Muslim majority (which is, in contrast, does have) and that it was only possible that it had a Hindu majority, which later paved the way for the revocation of Article 370.

Why is it heading to settler colonialism now?

However, this does not apply to non-Kashmiris, who only have to provide ration cards, educational records or an employment certificate. Tehsildars (junior bureaucrats) are supposed to grant domicile certificates within 15 days or risk being fined ₹50,000 rupees (US$678). The process for non-Kashmiris is relatively easier compared to Kashmiris themselves.

How is it related to Israel’s settler colonialism?

Indian consul-general advocates the ‘Israeli model’

He said: “The Jews kept their culture alive for 2,000 years outside their land and they went back. I think we all have to keep the Kashmiri culture alive, the Kashmiri culture is the Indian culture, it is the Hindu culture.

We already have a model in the world, I do not know why do not follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it. I think we should follow from there and push our leadership, otherwise what is the point (in revoking Article 370)? Things will remain the same,” Chakravorty added.

He also said the basic idea of why the Modi government chose to make Kashmir a union territory is because it wanted to bring the Valley under “direct rule of the Central government”.

“What happened on 5 August will have long-term repercussions for the Kashmiri people,” he said.

Israel’s citizenship and property laws — the worst nightmare for Kashmiris

“The Jews kept their culture alive for 2,000 years outside their land and they went back. I think we all have to keep the Kashmiri culture alive, the Kashmiri culture is the Indian culture, it is the Hindu culture.

Citizenship laws of Israel

Palestinians residing outside of Israel are NOT granted citizenship while those who are Israeli-Palestinians are given “Jinsiyya (“passport”) citizenship where they ‘enjoy’ partial rights including to the courts of law and to private property. However, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are “denied equal rights to social security, education and welfare (social rights) and the “land and water resources of the State (economic rights)”.

Property laws of Israel

Other laws include the Basic Law: Israel Lands, which posits that the ownership of “Israel lands” which is under the control of the state, the Jewish National Fund and the Development Authority, cannot be transferred in any manner. Besides, there are ordinances such as the Land (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance Amendment №10, allows the Finance Minister of the state to seize land for “public purposes” together with the laws such as the Absentees Property Law (1950) and the Land Acquisition Law (1953).

The amendment allows the State of Israel to declare ownership of the land seized and further allows the state to not use the land for the original confiscation purpose for 17 years. It further prevents landowners from retrieving the land that was seized. In essence, it was “designed to prevent Arab citizens of Israel from submitting lawsuits to reclaim confiscated land,” according to Adalah an independent human rights organisation and legal centre.

What Kashmiris fear — the ‘Israeli model’

“You cannot understand the situation in Kashmir by only listening to Indian and Pakistani ‘experts’, or even the Kashmiri mainstream politicians and the elite. International media needs to talk and listen to the local Kashmiris. That is the only voice that should matter.” — Zainab*, a 24-year old Kashmiri

Under all these circumstances, one cannot help but think about the parallel oppression that is happening in both Israel-occupied Palestine (or Occupied Palestinian Territory as it is formally known), and Indian-administered Kashmir, which Kashmiris themselves see as an occupation. According to an article by The Wire, Mahdi*, a journalist and a filmmaker from Poonch, said “Kashmir is in a pre-refugee state. If the current Modi government persists with its policy of settler colonialism by hollowing out Kashmiri institutions and overhauling domicile laws, Kashmiris will begin to parallel the condition of Palestinians, Syrians, and Rohingya. There will be targeted cleansing of Kashmiris.”

In the same article, Zainab* a 24-year-old from uptown Srinagar echoes a very important point:

“You cannot understand the situation in Kashmir by only listening to Indian and Pakistani ‘experts’, or even the Kashmiri mainstream politicians and the elite. International media needs to talk and listen to the local Kashmiris. That is the only voice that should matter.”

And rightly so, only the voice of Kashmiris should matter. It is obvious that the Modi-led BJP government is trying to push the contents of the Israeli playbook, of settler colonialism and trying to de-Muslimise the region by both its Hindutva ideology and the present revocation of the permanent residency law, especially after Modi became the very first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in 2017, followed by his Israeli counterpart in the next year.

Names changed under request*

Muslim, student of journalism, writes on Muslim affairs and Islamophobia