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Aamir Ali Bhat

Is India trying to build 'Israeli-style settlements' in Kashmir?

The Bar Association of Islamabad protest against the repeal of Article 35A [Aamir Ali Bhat]

Date of publication: 3 August, 2018

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Only Kashmiris may own property in Muslim-majority Kashmir, but a legal bid backed by a radical right-wing Hindu nationalist group threatens the region's special constitutional status, writes Aamir Ali Bhat.

For the past few days in Indian-administered Kashmir, people from practically every section of society, including mainstream and independent political factions, have held peaceful demonstrations against the repeal of a constitutional article that gives special status to the region.

While sitting on shop fronts, inside government offices, private workplaces, shopping malls and seemingly everywhere else, people are discussing Article 35A.

India's Supreme Court is set to rule on its repeal on Monday, and residents here fear the repercussions the region.

But what is Article 35A? It declares a "special status" for the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian union, guaranteeing that only Kashmiris have rights to inherit and own property here.

The Supreme Court has received five petitions against Article 35A. Among them is one filed by an NGO named "We the Citizens", believed by many to be the thinktank behind India's right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh group.

Attempting to safeguard the provisions of Article 35A, Kashmiri members of trade bodies, civil society, Pandits and independent leaders gathered to stage a peaceful protest on Thursday August 2, at Pratap Park in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Carrying banners and placards that read "dismiss PIL on Article 35A", "Assault on Article 35A is attack on our existence" and "Safeguard Article 35A: Save Disputed Status of Kashmir", the protesters also chanted slogans urging India to leave Kashmir.

"Every Kashmiri, including Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian has been witnessing the chain of protests for the last few days. Now anyone can imagine what will happen if the Supreme Court abrogates or tinkers with Article 35A," Bashir Ahmad Rather, president of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation, told The New Arab.

"Tomorrow an elite businessman from India will come and build a settlement in Kashmir. We will not even get space for a graveyard or even a crematorium. We are concerned about the future of our kids. Every Kashmiri is ready to sacrifice everything to safeguard Article 35A."

On July 29, top Kashmiri independence leaders including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, called for a two-day strike for August 5 and 6. The shut-down call was later supported by other groups and civil society organisations.

The situation of Kashmir will turn like Palestine and that cannot be allowed



In their bid to apply pressure on the central government, as many as 27 trade and industry bodies, including independentist leaders joined together to fight what they see as an attack on Article 35A, sparking a week-long protest.

"A mass agitation of hitting and occupying [the] streets will be launched if any tinkering with 35A is allowed to take place under a legal garb, the consequences of which will be entirely on those perpetuating such mischievous ploys against people of J&K," independence leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq wrote on his Twitter account.

"People should be ready as there is every apprehension of a mass crackdown against leadership and political activists by the ruling dispensation and we may be gagged, arrested and jailed, in that case JRL appeals people to be strong and carry forward the agitation against this assault," he added.

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In a bid to defend Article 35A, the Kashmiri High Court Bar Association has filed an application with the Supreme Court seeking an assessment in the proceedings of the case.

"It is necessary to retain Article 35A," said Ifran Gulzar Sheikh, secretary of the Bar Association of the District Court, Islamabad. "Our demography, identity, special status and environment are in danger," he concluded.

And it's not just secular figures. Deputy Grand Cleric Naser-Ul-Islam appealed to all local mosque leaders and the people of Kashmir to stage a mass protest on Friday August 3 after the midday prayers against the Narendra Modi-led Bahartiya Janata Party's plan to repeal the crucial article.

"The situation of Kashmir will turn like Palestine and that cannot be allowed," he said.

Article 35A

Issued by the President of India under Article 370(1)(d), Article 35A was inserted via the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 1954. It was added to continue the provision of an earlier order issued in 1950 under Article 370 that guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir restricting the legislative powers of India's central national government to three areas - defence, foreign affairs and communication.

Article 35A of the constitution empowers the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define the state's permanent residents and their special rights and privileges. It bars non-residents from permanent settlement in the Jammu and Kashmir and acquiring immovable property, government jobs, scholarships and aid.


Dr Ruheela Hassan is the head of the department of journalism and mass communication at the Islamic University of Science and Technology.

"The people of the state are already underprivileged and enjoy almost no rights; the abrogation of Article 35A will also snatch their right of identity," Hassan told The New Arab.

"While efforts should be made to empower the already deprived community, instead this will render them more powerless.

"If this presidential order will be tinkered with, then subsequently all the presidential orders will become susceptible."

Concern

Hameeda Nayeem, professor of English at the University of Kashmir said many held the view that the central government wanted to change the demography of Kashmir.

"If Article 35A is removed, settlements will emerge in Kashmir and we will turn into a minority. The only thing that stops India from implementing a resolution is the fact that ours is a Muslim-majority region. They want to change that," she said.

Tension is already high in Kashmir. Any change in the status of Article 35A will likely add fuel to mass unrest that broke out earlier this summer.

"There is already huge chunk of land under the control of the state, acquired in the name of defence," Hassan reiterated.

India has deployed hundreds of thousands of forces to put the rebellion down, making Kashmir one of the most militarized zones on the planet



Kashmir continues to be one of the longest unresolved conflicts, with India and Pakistan, both nuclear states, claiming the region in full after fighting three wars over it. Indian-administered Kashmir has seen death and destructing since the armed insurgency erupted against Indian rule in 1989.

India has in turn deployed hundreds of thousands of forces to put the rebellion down, making Kashmir one of the most militarized zones on the planet.

In the past eight years, the region has seen extensive and popular uprisings, and many are now claiming Kashmir will witness another uprising if Article 35A is repealed.

Aamir Ali Bhat is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist who reports on human rights abuses, culture and the environment. He writes for The New Arab, Kashmir Ink and Free Press Kashmir.

Follow him on Twitter: @Aamirbhatt3

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