Two years of turmoil in Kashmir, a political vacuum, and a deteriorating economy | Conflict news | World Weekly

Two years of turmoil in Kashmir, a political vacuum, and a deteriorating economy |  Conflict news

 | World Weekly

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Two years after the Modi administration stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its limited autonomy, political activity in the disputed region is in deep stalemate, businesses are struggling, while people’s rights are suppressed through strict laws.

On this day two years ago, the Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the region’s decades-old special status, turning the country’s only Muslim-majority country into a federally controlled territory.

The move included lifting the ban on permanent settlement of non-Kashmiris in the area, a move locals fear is aimed at bringing about demographic changes in the region.

The right-wing BJP government has claimed that the changes will lead to better development of the region and boost its economy.

But experts and political analysts say the situation has only deteriorated in the past two years.

political vacuum

The last state elections were held in Indian-administered Kashmir in 2015, when the pro-India People’s Democratic Party (PDP) allied with the BJP to form the government.

The region has a host of political parties that are considered loyal to New Delhi. They are running regional and national elections, boycotted by separatist groups in the region, which are demanding either integration with neighboring Pakistan or an independent state.

In 2018, the BJP withdrew its support for the People’s Democratic Party, toppled the government and put the country under the direct rule of New Delhi.

The following year, when the Modi government repealed Articles 370 and 35a that had granted independence to the Indian-administered Kashmir, dozens of politicians from the region were arrested, including three former chief ministers affiliated with pro-India parties. Some of them are still in prison.

Meanwhile, the region has been divided into two federally controlled territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh – and no legislative elections have been announced there yet.

Between November and December last year, multi-stage local elections were held in the district to elect 280 county development council members. Analysts said the election was an attempt by New Delhi to show “normality” in the disputed Himalayan region, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

While the elected DACs do not have the power to legislate or amend laws, many have since been confined to hotel rooms in various locations and banned from visiting their constituencies due to “security threats”.

Several elected council members, angry at the government’s treatment, threatened to resign.

Pro-India politicians in the region say the controversial government decisions have “damaged our bond with the Union of India”.

“There is no political space left for anyone,” Muhammad Yusuf Trigami, a former minister and four-time legislator from the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM) told Al Jazeera.

Tarigami is the organizer and spokesperson for the People’s Alliance for the Declaration of Ghobkar (PAGD), a six-party coalition demanding the restoration of the region’s autonomy and statehood.

He said the repercussions of the BJP government’s 2019 decision was “the process of stifling democracy and democratic rights, resulting in enforced silence” in the region.

“The unreasonable suppression of civil rights and democracy continues unabated. Arbitrary arrests and harassment of all segments of our people, including government employees, continue under various pretexts.”

There are reports that the federal government has made future elections subject to so-called delimitation, which means the redistricting of district constituencies. Residents fear that the BJP is aiming to increase the seats in the southern Jammu district of the region in order to reduce the representation of the Kashmir Valley in the state assembly.

suppression of civil rights

A 78-page report titled Two Years of Lockdown: Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, released by the Indian civil society group, the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Forum, on Wednesday concluded that the security situation in the Himalayan region has worsened.

The report pointed to an increase in cases of human rights violations, including the suppression of dissent, the arrest of activists, and the use of strict laws against journalists for carrying out their work.

Indeed, new methods have been added that endanger civil security, political freedoms, government service, and media independence. There appears to be little accountability for abuses by the union government and security forces.

Nearly 1,000 people remain in prison, including minors and elected lawmakers, the report said, some of whom are subject to strict laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.

Data from India’s National Bureau of Crime Records shows that 921 cases were registered in the region between 2014-2019, of which 500 were recorded in 2018 and 2019.

Lawyer and activist Abel Iqbal told Al Jazeera that in the past two years, UAPA has been used in Indian-administered Kashmir “as a tool to tighten control over its population”.

“Apparently, this is done in the name of security concerns but the real motive appears to be political. People are detained for months without trial and courts are used to legitimize police excesses and abuse.

Shortly after its 2019 decision, the BJP government shut down six semi-autonomous commissions in the district, including the State Human Rights Commission, the Protection and Women’s and Children’s Rights Commission, and the Persons with Disabilities Commission.

At the time of its closure, the region’s human rights commission had at least 8,000 outstanding cases of torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and rape. Thousands of families have been left without any hope of justice due to the closures.

Nearly a year after shutting down these commissions, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided the offices and residences of two prominent human rights activists in the area: Parvina Ahangar, president of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, and Khurram Parvez, a member. Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society (JKCCS).

After the raids, human rights activism in the area was completely stifled.

JKCCS chief Parviz Emroz told Al Jazeera that in the past two years, rights abuses by Indian security forces have become more and more brazen in the volatile region.

“[…] Because, along with political impunity, they now enjoy moral impunity,” he said, adding that “neutralizing civil society and human rights groups” is inconsistent with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Depriving people of their everyday rights, using threats and intimidation to silence people… Whatever little incitement and protest the victims used to suffocate that space.”

no end to violence

One of the arguments put forward by the BJP government while implementing its 2019 resolution was that the move would reduce the armed rebellion against Indian rule in the region, which began more than 30 years ago.

But the records tell another story.

A local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that in the first seven months of 2021, at least 80 local youths joined the rebellion. In 2020, he said, 163 joined.

In the past month, at least 31 armed rebels have been killed in more than a dozen gun battles, with a trend showing no end to the violence in the region.

The number of civilian deaths has also increased. While 32 civilians were killed during protests or security operations last year, at least 19 civilians lost their lives in the first six months of 2021, according to a report by a local civil society group.

Yashwant Sinha, a former federal minister and member of the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Forum, told Al Jazeera that there is a lot of resentment among the people over what happened two years ago.

The trust deficit has deepened. “It’s a bleak silence,” he said after visiting the region last week.

“To tell you the truth, normality has not returned to the Kashmir Valley. The fact that there are no stone-throwing in the streets and no demonstrations does not mean a return to normalcy.”

Fears of negativity

Having tightened its grip on the region militarily, the federal government also introduced a series of policy decisions and repealed several historic land laws, which had protected the land rights of the region’s residents for decades.

New Delhi on Tuesday released a 76-page document, Jammu and Kashmir: The March on a New Melody, highlighting the government’s “achievements” since August 5, 2019.

In the document, the government said it had issued four million residence certificates to people to settle in Indian-administered Kashmir, including 55,931 certificates given to Hindu and Sikh refugees who came to the region in 1947 when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned to form India and Pakistan.

The document further stated that nearly 3,000 similar certificates were issued to the marginalized members of the Valmiki community, who work as sanitation workers, and to hundreds of Gurkhas brought to Kashmir from Nepal. As of August 5, 2019, these individuals were not recognized as citizens of the former country.

However, the document is silent on the number of residency certificates granted to people from other Indian states, a silence that heightens concern in the Muslim-majority region about New Delhi’s attempt to change its demographic.

Besides, New Delhi has also opened other gates for foreigners to settle in the region. Jobs previously reserved for permanent residents of the region are now open to residency certificate holders.

Moreover, in another worrying trend, at least 11 government employees have been dismissed from their jobs “because they pose a threat to the state”.

Local political analyst Sheikh Shawkat Hussein told Al Jazeera that the moves created fear of dispossession and loss of rights over jobs and land.

“All of the people’s concerns about the status quo have been proven correct,” he said.

They were apprehensive that if the status quo continued, they would be outnumbered by those who come from Indian states and be stripped of their land and identity. All this has been achieved.”

Politician Tarigami said the peoples of the region are “dividing into smaller units and stripped of their jobs and rights to the natural resources they own”.

sank economy

Perhaps the worst impact of the 2019 decision was the region’s economy, which traders and industrialists say has collapsed, with thousands of jobs lost and unemployment rising.

Sheikh Ashiq, head of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Al Jazeera that the region’s economy had incurred losses of about $7,500 billion in two consecutive years of closure, first due to the cancellation of the special status and later due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When we were hoping to revive trade after the 2019 shutdown, COVID-19 hit the region. We informed the government of the need for comprehensive support to revive businesses.

Ashiq said at least 500,000 Kashmiris have lost their jobs since 2019, including nearly 60,000 employees in the leading tourism and horticultural sectors.

With the current economy in the region on the verge of collapse, local businesses are not hoping for new investments in the region.

“Companies that have already invested their blood and money must be saved first,” Ashiq said.

Siddiq Waheed, the former vice president of the Islamic University of Science and Technology in the region, said New Delhi’s decisions had even put the BJP government “in a difficult position” by creating more flashpoints.

“Things have gotten worse for Delhi,” he told Al Jazeera. Now, (the government) has four trouble spots to control. The Jammu region feels economically disadvantaged due to the land rights that have been taken from it. Ladakh is another place because they are not satisfied with New Delhi because they were promised a union territory with local authority powers which has not happened.”

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