New Delhi distributes 25,000 domicile certificates to outsiders residing in India-administered Kashmir, local media reports, almost a year after the unilateral annexation of the disputed territory.

A Kashmiri woman stands in Srinagar next to graffiti scribbled on a wall in response to India scrapping the disputed region's limited autonomy.
A Kashmiri woman stands in Srinagar next to graffiti scribbled on a wall in response to India scrapping the disputed region's limited autonomy. (Reuters Archive)

India has begun issuing controversial "domicile certificates" to thousands of non-Kashmiris. Critics have long warned settling non-locals in disputed Himalayan territory is an attempt to effect demographic change in the Muslim-majority region.

One of the first outsiders to get the certificate was Navin Kumar Choudhary, a senior civil servant from eastern India's Bihar state, The Tribune newspaper reported on Friday. 

It said Choudhary is among nearly 25,000 people who have been handed the domicile certificate, which allows non-Kashmiris to assume jobs and purchase land in the tiny Himalayan territory bitterly contested by Pakistan and India.

Citing official records, the newspaper said the Indian government has received 33,157 applications for domicile certificates "and over 25,000 people have been granted the citizenship certificate."

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Changing demographics

Domicile certificates were also given to hundreds of Hindu refugees who migrated to Kashmir from Pakistan after 1947 and Indian sanitation workers, who entered Kashmir in 1957.

Recently, amid the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, New Delhi introduced controversial domicile laws that made an unspecified number of its citizens eligible for jobs and residency in disputed Kashmir.

India has made it mandatory for local revenue officers to issue the residency certificates in 15 days. Any delay on the part of the officer would result in a salary deduction of $660 from the officer's monthly salary. 

Kashmiris, including those associated with pro-India parties, say the "illegal" and "unconstitutional" laws are aimed at reducing Muslims –– who account for 68 percent of the population –– to a minority group by settling Hindus (currently 28 percent) in large numbers.

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Unilateral annexation 

The development comes almost a year after India stripped the restive region of its semi-autonomy and enforced a total communications blackout. 

India also abrogated Article 370, a law that limited rights over jobs, scholarships, and land to the permanent residents of India-administered Kashmir.

New Delhi annexed the territory and bifurcated it into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh federal territories, sparking tensions with both Pakistan and China.

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Decades-old conflict 

Nearly a dozen rebel groups have fought for decades for Muslim-majority Kashmir’s independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers the other part of Kashmir (Pakistan-administered Kashmir).

Both countries claim the Himalayan region in its entirety.

India has often tried to suppress uprisings, including a bloody armed rebellion in 1989. 

Rights groups say some 100,000 people have been killed since that uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.

India has stationed more than 500,000 troops in the region.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies