The unilateral action taken by India on August 5 besides other such measures, is consistent with the phenomenon of settler colonialism: a phenomenon that invokes brutal subordination, suppression and forceful assimilation to bring about demographic aspiration of Ek Pradhan, Ek Vidhan and Ek Nishan.
On August 5, 2022, the third anniversary of India’s illegal and unilateral actions against the people and state of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the Kashmiris and the world community alarmingly noticed the Hindu nationalist activities to change the demography of the region on the pattern of settler colonialism. Through the fascist tactics of coercion and suppression, the Hindu nationalists want to change the Muslim character of the IIOJK to a Hindu-majority region. This piece will look into the phenomenon of settler colonialism, and how it dilutes and destroys the identity of the local inhabitants of a region, transforming it with authoritative methods to the imperialistic culture of the settlers.
Settler colonialism is a process in which exogenous dominant groups create a structure that eliminates, subordinates, or outnumbers the indigenous people and their cultures, and replaces it with the settler society. To achieve its objectives of the reduction in the number of the indigenous population and destruction of their culture, this settler structure uses all measures such as forceful subordinate assimilation, deportation, and systematic genocide of the local inhabitants. The settler structure may use violent or less lethal methods in the process of colonization; this system is essentially designed to depopulate the colony of the local people and create a territorial space for the plantation of a new settler society. For the success of settler colonialism, it is essential for the settlers to vacate the local territory of both indigenous people and their distinct cultural identities. Therefore, the violent methods of the settlers of the British colonies in North America, Australia, and Zealandia left no indigenous culture strong enough to compete and challenge the dominance of the European settlers.
These settlers with a powerful civilization consider it their divine right to populate and utilize the resources of colonized territories as their own. The permanent occupation of the land makes settler colonialism different from classic colonialism; classical colonialism acquires land and establishes a system of dominance to fulfill the politico-economic and ideological interest of its distant metropolis. The goal of the classical colonizer is not to stay, but to create a colonial structure of permanent subordination and exploitation of the colonized indigenous majority. In classical colonialism, there is a strong possibility that the indigenous population may survive with its distinct cultural identity, but settler colonialism makes sure the destruction of the people and their cultural identity. It aims to create a new sovereign state and society with a unique socio-cultural identity that has an independent structure of law and order for its governance. The Europeans have successfully created such colonies in the so-called new lands and now Israel is trying to repeat this process of land acquisition and Palestinian depopulation in Palestine. In line with these brutalized and dehumanized experiments, the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated the same settler colonial project in IIOJK. Unlike the European projects, the Hindu nationalists are following a communal agenda of land acquisition and depopulation against the Muslim population of IIOJK to whom the Indian constitution had promised protection through Articles 370 and 35A.
On August 5, 2019, the Modi government initiated the process of building the settler colonialism structure by revoking the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir; it abrogated Articles 370 and 35A and bifurcated the state through the reduction of its status into two union territories to be called Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh; and made the entire Constitution of India applicable to these territories. This act automatically abolished Article 35A.
Article 370 gave control of the defense, external affairs, and communication of Kashmir to the central government and conferred on it the powers to have a separate constitution, a state flag, and autonomy of internal administration. According to the article, the provisions of the Indian Constitution could only be applied through the presidential order with prior consultation or concurrence of the state government. Additionally, the President on the recommendation of the state Constituent Assembly, could render the article inoperative by public notification; the State's constituent assembly dissolved itself on January 25, 1957, without recommending either abrogation or amendment of Article 370, therefore, on August 5, 2019, it was not available to make any recommendation. On the other hand, Article 35A was added to the Indian Constitution via Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954; it empowered the State Legislature of Jammu and Kashmir to define permanent residents of the state along with granting them special privileges. The article barred non-permanent residents of IIOJK to own property in the region, obtain any job in the regional government, join any professional college run by the government, or get any form of government aid from government funds. The revoking of these articles endangered all the essential elements of the Kashmiri people's survival as a distinct ethnic and religio-cultural group. On its part, Pakistan, along with the international community, had never recognized the articles as a substitute for the exercise of the Kashmiri people's right of a plebiscite to decide their future; however, it does recognize the benefits of the articles for the protection of the Kashmiri identity and demography. That is why Pakistan and the international community have refused to recognize the Modi government's propaganda that Kashmir is India’s internal issue. Both have raised the concerns of the Kashmiri people and rejected the revoking of Articles 370 and 35A.
Almost all the successive governments of India wanted to change the demography of the state but Article 370 checked their advances into Kashmir. The Congress government had interfered in the affairs of the state through forty-seven President Ordinances and modified the autonomy of the state from time to time. The Hindu nationalists always opposed the special status of Kashmir under Article 370 and declared it against the spirit of Indian secularism and democratic values and a violation of the supremacy of the Indian constitution. Fundamentally, the Hindu nationalists considered Article 370 against the basic tenets of their ideology of Hindutva; accordingly, India, including Kashmir, is a Hindu land; and the Hindu vision should dictate over the others having no right to stay in the Hindu country unless they surrender to their culture and religious norms. The first president of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), Mr. Syama Prasad Mukherjee challenged the state's right to control the free movement of non-Kashmiris and entered the state in 1953 without any legal authority and approval of the state’s government where he was arrested and detained; later, he died in prison. After his death, the abolishment of Article 370 and bringing the state in line with other states became an essential element of the Hindu nationalists' agenda. They consistently pushed for Ek Pradhan, Ek Vidhan, Ek Nishan (One Prime Minister, one constitution, and one flag) for India and demanded full integration of the state into India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made Article 370’s abolishment a part of its election manifesto of 2014 as well as 2019, openly declaring it discriminatory and a hindrance in the settlement of Hindus in the state. In 2019, it was argued that the special status through the constitution was the main provoker of the emergence of a separatist movement in the state. It was further claimed that its revocation was necessary for the economic development and growth of the state, and the increased economic activity was projected to divert the attention of the Kashmiri youth from irrational violence for the succession of constructive activities. Instead of these claims, the people of the state experienced an unprecedented clampdown of the central government. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, the Centre shut down landline, mobile, and internet communications, and arrested the state’s political leaders and activists. Curfews and lockdowns were also imposed.
India, for a long time, has been trying to construct a narrative of Hindu Kashmir in which Hindu culture excluding Muslim Kashmir is romanticized. The Indian Army has projected itself as a protector of Hindus and their land. It has promoted a militarized tourism of non-Kashmiri Hindus under the garb of the Amarnath pilgrimage, a Hindu pilgrimage site in the Himalayas, titled Operation Shiva. Additionally, around 40 hectares of Kashmir’s land were given to the Amarnath shrine to build housing facilities for the pilgrims. Bollywood has also promoted this Hindu narrative of Kashmir that it is not only an atoot ang (an “integral part”) of India, but also India’s crown, and that to love Kashmir is to love India. The revocation of the articles further facilitated the Modi government to construct a settler discourse and encourage the sympathizers of Hindu nationalism to settle and invest in Kashmir to increase the Hindu population and relegate local Muslims to a status of socio-economically dependent second-class citizens or forcefully drive them out of the state. To make Kashmir a Hindu-majority state, the government has introduced liberal citizenship laws to make hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals eligible for government employment and purchase land in the region. In this regard, the government has amended 109 laws and scrapped 29 laws of the Indian Constitution. According to the 2011 Census of India, Kashmir Valley’s population was about 6.8 million and Jammu’s about 5.3 million. In total, Muslims are 68.31 percent and Hindus are 28.45 percent of the Jammu and Kashmir population. It is Jammu province where the Hindu majority is 62.5 percent and Muslims 33.5 percent, but only 4 of its 10 districts have a Hindu majority. Thus, Jammu is the main target; immediately, the government had given about half a million Hindus–who had been living in Jammu, but had no voting or citizenship rights–citizenship. India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has issued new land laws for Kashmir that have made it possible for any Indian citizen to buy land in the region. Additionally, the government has created land banks of about 1100 acres of land for the outside investors. The Indian Army has also become a partner in this land-grabbing venture in Kashmir; they can declare any land as strategic without obtaining No Objection Certificate from the local civil authorities before requisitioning the land. Under these provisions, the Indian Army has justified the illegal grab of over 54,000 acres of land in Kashmir. In addition to these grabs, there are proposals to provide land at cheap rates to establish colonies for the retired soldiers and government officers. That is why the Indian military has become the main facilitator of this project through the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1990; accordingly, they have complete immunity from any prosecution, lawsuit, or other legal proceedings, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government.
Kashmir is a land-scarce region where the average land holding is about an acre, therefore, the successive regimes in the region have jealously protected its identity and land from any major influx of outsiders. In 1927, on the insistence of influential Kashmiris, Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh introduced residency rights to stop the influx of outsiders in his princely state. As a part of the special status of Kashmir, these laws continued under Indian rule after 1947. To initiate the process of settler colonialism, the Indian government issued new domicile certificates to Indians and non-residents, entitling them to residency rights and government jobs. The new law makes it possible for any Indian national who has lived in the region for at least 15 years or has studied for seven years and taken certain exams to become a permanent resident in Jammu and Kashmir. To ensure that the process of issuing domiciles is efficient and fast-tracked, the government has introduced a fine of 50,000 Indian rupees to be deducted from the salary of any official in the territory who delays the process. These domicile certificates were given to Hindu refugees from Pakistan, Gurkha soldiers from Nepal who had served in the Indian army, outside bureaucrats working in the region, and some marginalized Hindu communities; the local Kashmiris were also required to apply for residency, otherwise, they could risk losing their government jobs and welfare benefits. In this fast-tracked process, fake domiciles are also issued; these illegal domicile certificates issued to non-Kashmiri settlers are projected to be over 4.2 million. The resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits has emerged as another Trojan horse in the hand of the Hindu nationalist government to import non-Kashmiri outsiders into the region and provide them with secure housing colonies. In the 1990s, these Pandits left Kashmir and settled in various parts of India. Their resettlement has been an electoral issue for all the parties. In 2010, the Congress Party government in New Delhi launched a program of resettlement; around 6,000 Kashmiri Pandits were given jobs to settle with their families in Kashmir. The BJP government now plans to build Israel-style settlements and heavily guarded colonies for the returning Pandits, including schools, shopping malls, hospitals, and playgrounds. The Indian Consul General, Sandeep Chakravorty declared in an interview: "It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it.”
The Modi government initiated a comprehensive plan to disempower the local Kashmiris, both in political and administrative terms, and transform them as outsiders in process of the construction of the settler colonial structure. The Hindu nationalist government has ruined the local structures of self-government in Kashmir with a lot of vigor and efficiency. To increase the number of non-local officers in the administration of Kashmir, the Modi government reduced the share of Kashmiri candidates entering the Indian civil service from 50 percent to 33 percent. Urdu language, which is an essential element of the Muslim identity in the subcontinent, and has served in Kashmir along with English as an official language for seven decades, lost its status and has become one of the five official languages, with the addition of Kashmiri, Dogri, and Hindi. The Union Home Minister, Amit Shah further promised the development of major regional languages like Gojri, Pahari, and Punjabi. All this is being planned at the expense of Urdu–the symbol of Indo-Muslim civilization in India.
The Hindu nationalist government has picked up another scheme to disenfranchise and disempower the Muslim majority population of Kashmir through redrawing the electoral constituencies. For this purpose, it has established a ‘Delimitation Commission’ that would redraw the constituencies on the basis of geography, not population, which is a universally accepted rule for the delimitation of electoral constituencies. The objective is to reorganize the voter units in a way that gives a numerical advantage to the southern region of Jammu, where there is a larger concentration of Hindu voters. The Hindu nationalist calculation is that in this way, there would be 43 seats for Jammu and 47 for Kashmir, whereas, population-wise there should be 51 constituencies for Kashmir against its 6.8 million population and 39 for Jammu on its 5.3 million population. The BJP has always demanded geography as a criterion for the delimitation in Kashmir because the Hindu-dominated Jammu area is geographically larger, i.e., 10,100 square miles as compared to the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley which is 6,100 square miles. To further reduce the overall number of general seats for the Kashmir Valley, the BJP has proposed to reserve seats for scheduled castes or Dalits, the tribal groups, and Kashmiri Pandits. Furthermore, it wishes to reserve seats for Hindu refugees who migrated from Pakistan and settled in Jammu in the wake of the India-Pakistan wars of 1947 and 1965. All these actions would help Hindu nationalists to realize their long-standing objective of electing a Hindu chief minister in Kashmir. The Modi government established this ‘Delimitation Commission’ against the Parliament-sanctioned freeze on all delimitation; in 1976, the Indian Parliament froze all delimitation on the 1971 census, and in 2002, this freeze was extended till 2026. At that time, the ruling party of Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC), also put a freeze on delimitation until 2026. However, the Modi government established the delimitation commission under the aegis of a retired justice to redraw constituencies based on 2011 census numbers in Kashmir and four northeastern states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh. But later, the names of all four northeastern states were withdrawn from the list while Kashmir was kept on its agenda. This has provoked the Kashmiri Muslims to conclude that the Modi government intends to engineer a Hindu majority in Kashmir on the pattern of the Israeli ‘Plan Dalet’ of David Ben-Gurion, the primary national founder of the State of Israel and its first Prime Minister.
The Sangh Parivar and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have an ideological anti-Muslim agenda regarding Kashmir. The Kashmiri Muslims assert that according to the Hindu nationalists, they have committed a double crime that they are Muslims and have a majority state. But the Hindu nationalists, in their myopic view, are ignoring the fact that the region and the international community are closely watching their illegal and arbitrary actions in IIOJK. They will not have a walkover here, but will rather face a very determined resistance in their endeavors to change the Muslim character of Kashmir. In their pursuit of self-illusionary and unrealistic ideological assumptions, they are sowing the seeds of another more complicated and violent conflict in the South Asian region that will bleed its people for many decades to come.
The writer is on the faculty of Quaid-i-Azam University (School of Politics and International Relations).
E-mail: [email protected]
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