Colonizing Kashmir

95

 

Altaf Hussain Wani

The Indian occupation regime introduced new land lease rules in Jammu and Kashmir on December 11, 2022. The rules – notified by the revenue department under Section 4, read with Section 9 of the Jammu and Kashmir Land Grants Act, 1960 – state that all outgoing lessees, except those for residential purposes, shall immediately handover the possession of their land to the government, failing which the outgoing lessee will be evicted.

Colonizing Kashmir has long been India’s holy grail. From Nehru to Modi, every Indian ruler has treated Kashmir as a colony. A case study of the conflict dating back to the military invasion of the territory by India in 1947 to its unlawful integration in 2019 substantiates the widely held view that Indian governments have persistently pursued a settler-colonial framework to strengthen New Delhi’s control over Jammu and Kashmir.

India’s goal has always been to take advantage of Kashmir’s resources, replace the indigenous population with an invasive settler society, and control the region’s space, resources, and people by occupying their lands. It has always wished to establish an exclusively private property regime, change the political nature of the Kashmir dispute through demographic changes, political manoeuvrings, and administrative machinations, and deprive its people of the right to self-determination promised to them by the international community. The August 5, 2019 abrogation move, rightly censured as an act of colonization, was a watershed moment in the history of Kashmir as it marked the region’s transition from Patrick Wolfe’s first model to the second model of colonialism. The move, which opened the floodgates for Indian settlers and enabled them to have access to more capital to take over Kashmiri lands, was a typical example of Machiavellian mischief by the Indian state to disenfranchise, disempower, and dispossess Kashmiris of their lands.

Since the abrogation of these constitutional provisions the Indian government through a host of settler strategies has tried to obtain and maintain territorial control over the state. The dominant features of Indian government’s Kashmir policy today include replacing the indigenous population, seizing their land, committing genocide and dehumanizing the local people, accumulating capital and extracting resources, changing the demography, using and abusing the military force, re-writing history, and enabling communalism.

A settler-colonial drive has been initiated under the garb of the new domicile law to replace the indigenous population with new settlers. The law has formally paved the way for outsiders to settle in the state permanently, enabling them to claim the already non-existent”” jobs in Jammu and Kashmir, where unemployment rate is double than in any other Indian state. Under the pretext of the new law, outsiders (non-state subjects) employed in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) will also have the right to purchase land in the state.

Since occupying the lands of the indigenous population has been central to settler-colonial state processes, the new administration in Kashmir has introduced amendments to the Control of Building Operations Act, 1988 and the Development Act, 1970, giving sweeping powers to the Indian army to acquire more land in Kashmir. Under the new law, the Indian Army can declare any part of IIOJK – including agricultural lands, residential areas and neighbourhoods – to be “strategic areas”, and take possession of any land of their choice.

As per a report, over 4.30 lakh kanals of land in the Jammu and Kashmir is already under the illegal occupation of the Indian military and paramilitary forces. In 2016, the then chief minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti, informed the legislative assembly that 51,116 kanals of state land in Jammu and 379,817 kanals of land in Kashmir and Ladakh were under the unauthorized occupation of the Indian forces.

On October 27, 2020, the Indian government amended the Land Revenue Act. The changes were authorized by the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and were implemented on the day Kashmir observes Black Day to mark the arrival of the Indian Army in the region’s main city of Srinagar in 1947.The amendment in these laws means more destruction, plunder of state-land, disempowerment of the local authorities, and further erosion of political and economic rights of the native people.

Amending the Land Revenue Act was tantamount to putting Kashmir on sale. Under the new law anyone from outside Jammu and Kashmir can now buy agricultural land for commercial and other non-agricultural purposes with the government’s permission. Kashmiris widely perceive the repealing of basic land laws and massive amendments to other laws as a conspiracy to push and implement the agenda of demographic change, and disempowering the people of IIOJK. The frequent tampering with land laws by the occupation authorities clearly tells that the Indian government’s main motive to abrogate Articles 370 and 35/A was to take away the lands of indigenous Kashmiris and bring outsiders to settle in the occupied territory.

The locals who have long held land under lease – farmers, hoteliers, and businesspeople – are now being asked to vacate the land. The Indian authorities will do whatever they please to achieve their goals. This is yet another fraud with the people of occupied Kashmir. The right-wing RSS-backed BJP government of India is committing tyranny on the people of IIOJK by grabbing their resources and land on one pretext or the other. This is no different to what was done in Palestine by the Israeli government.

On abrogating Article 370 and 35/A, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed that it was done to ensure development, create jobs, empower women and encourage transparency. But the Kashmiris knew that the real reason for abrogating the constitutional laws was land grabbing and demographic changes. Tragically, their fears have not remained unfounded. It cannot be more obvious than what is unfolding in IIOJK today as the Indian government implements its brazen and ferocious agenda.

[The writer is Chairman Kashmir Institute of International Relations Islamabad.]