With no elected leadership at the helm in disputed Kashmir, New Delhi has unilaterally passed a slew of laws to alter the majority-Muslim demography of the region.
On August 5 last year, the Indian parliament abrogated Article 370, which allowed the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir to have a separate constitution, flag and legislature that could ultimately make laws independent of India's federal oversight.
The key reasons cited in parliament for the move were that Kashmiri laws were discriminatory, strengthened secession and were a hurdle in the economic development of the region.
One year on, the outcome begs to tell a different tale. New Delhi has amended 109 laws and scrapped 29 more in the region that has been a nuclear flashpoint between India and Pakistan since 1947. No such legal changes were made in Ladakh, despite the disputed region, which lies between India and China, proving yet another Kashmir-like conundrum.
Article 370 was not a favour granted by the Indian state to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Instead, it formed the basis of administrative relations between the two, and this reality was not lost on the Hindu supremacist government. It is the reason behind a rhetoric smacking of triumphalism, despite brazenness being the Hindu right-wing’s defining characteristic.
Cumulatively, the key changes appear geared towards converting Jammu and Kashmir into a Hindu-majority state. On paper, it could already be one after New Delhi introduced a liberal citizenship law that made hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals eligible for government employment, as well as able to purchase properties in the contested region.
Changes are being made at a frenetic pace. Before you process one and its ramifications, two others are announced. It brings to mind the unfolding of a blueprint that had been in the making for a long time.
In practice, the demographic transformation has to happen in two distinct provinces of the region, the Kashmir Valley, and its neighbouring province Jammu.
According to the 2011 Census, Kashmir Valley’s population was about 7 million and Jammu’s about 5.4 million (total Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir 68.31 percent and Hindus 28.45). As a whole, the Jammu region is Hindu majority (62.5 percent Hindu and Muslims 33.5 percent) but only four of its 10 districts have Hindu majority. The rest are Muslim majority and, taken together, they also boast the largest area.
The Muslim districts are contiguous with Kashmir Valley and have been demanding an autonomous status, free from administrative hegemony of the Jammu district, which acts as the state’s capital for the six winter months.
Four million more Hindus in Jammu could not only render Muslim districts as Hindu majority, but also downgrade Muslims to a mere minority in the entire region. About half a million Hindus, who had been living in Jammu for decades but had no voting or citizenship rights, were granted citizenship. They have already tilted the demographic balance in Jammu.
However, even after achieving a completely Hindu Jammu and Hindu-majority Jammu and Kashmir, the 97 per cent Muslim Kashmir Valley would stay a sore point for the Hindu supremacists because it remains the epicentre of the anti-India revolt.
More than Jammu, Kashmir Valley is the actual target of the demographic flooding. The Hindu right sees a 30 percent Muslim population anywhere as a threat.
The ulster plantation of Kashmir
Reducing Kashmir Valley into a minority, however, would require settling 8 million Hindus there. For now, however, even 3 million could suffice to tighten the internal siege against Muslims. The demographic flooding, the actual settlement of outsiders, in our estimations, will therefore happen simultaneously in Kashmir Valley and Jammu.
Palestinian territories annexed by Israel are being cited as a model for the demographic invasion. Given the Hindu right’s trajectory of the past seven years, a story had started doing the rounds: a very important official in India’s security establishment, when serving as a junior level intelligence officer in Kashmir, is believed to have suggested expulsion of Muslims from medieval Spain as the way to go in Kashmir.
However, in light of what has unfolded so far, the incumbent government in New Delhi will no doubt try a combination of many models, old and new, with improvisations.
For Kashmir Valley, something along the lines of the ‘Ulster Plantation’ appears to be in the offing. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the British decided to settle the English and Scottish nationals in parts of Northern Ireland to “civilise” the Irish.
The plantations, mainly made up of Protestants, were meant to create a population loyal to the British in the annexed territories. The plantations were incentivised: they were asked to settle near churches and garrisons. Trading syndicates in London were coerced into investing in the plantations.
Land was given free of charge to settlers who were required to be English speaking. Plantations were planned throughout conquered Ireland but succeeded only in some counties of Ulster, a province of Ireland.
Aided by some Irish, these plots of land were expected to achieve their goal in three years. Many settlers, however, were massacred by the Irish who mounted anti-plantation revolts. Soldiers sent from Britain crushed the revolt and committed atrocities in Ireland in the process.
The resulting ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland are, to a large extent, the legacy of the Ulster Plantation, because the settlers remained loyal to colonial Britain.
In Kashmir, the government, run directly from New Delhi, has created “land banks”. About 1,100 acres of the land has been made available only for outside investors. The Indian army has been exempted from obtaining a ‘No Objection Certificate’ before it requisitions land. Several large tracts of private and government land are occupied by the Indian army. Some are under dispute in courts.
Another amendment to laws allows notifying certain areas as “strategic” to suit armed forces. Here, local civilian authorities would not have much say over constructions by the armed forces.
Kashmir is land scarce (average land holding about an acre) and reforms in the 1950s resulted in people becoming the second largest owners of land. Thus, Ireland type plantations are likely to occur around these garrisons.
Tens of thousands of labourers from Indian plains work in Kashmir from Spring to Autumn. A 100-bed hospital and welfare schemes have been announced for them. A much higher number of migrant labourers work in several Indian states but across the border, there is no separate hospital for labourers.
Housing for settlers would need constructing on a grand scale, needing, of course, many more labourers as a result.
To provide a developmental facade for the demographic flooding, outsiders would also be settled in to aid educational, health, administrative and other such institutions.
An example of such a transformation is already in place. Until 2003, the National Institute of Technology, in Srinagar, one of dozens of NITs in India, was a Regional Engineering College, where the majority of the students were citizens of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. Today, students from across India form the majority. On several occasions in the past, it has been a battleground for “nationalistic” Indian and pro-freedom Kashmiri students.
Last year, 50 acres of land in Jammu were transferred to an outside temple trust. Recently, 16 acres of land were allotted for a school that is part of a chain funded by the Indian government. The transfer happened when hundreds of schools in Kashmir were operating out of rented buildings.
Some of these changes and announcements are vague. For example, take the Housing Policy 2020 announced by the government on July 17. The plans suggest the construction of 100,000 houses over the next five years (which probably explains rushing tens of thousands of labourers into Kashmir amid pandemic lockdown, while keeping the local population indoors with force).
The gist of the policy is that this housing will range between “in-situ slum redevelopment” and “integrated townships to cater to every section of the society.”
At present, there are virtually no slums in Kashmir Valley, but, once outsiders - mostly labourers with no place to call their own - come to settle, slums could begin to grow and be transformed into settlements.
The demographic invasion is a symphony of government-military-corporate-labour activities propelled by a religiously driven agenda. There is nothing to stop the demographic flooding. All dissent has been criminalised, Kashmiri Muslims sidelined from administration and the international community has maintained a total silence.
The demographic-change-on-steroids is transforming a 73-year-old political dispute into a religious one. The ruling Indian government has cast it firmly in the Hindu-Muslim binary. It is no coincidence that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi picked August 5 as the date for laying the foundation of a temple being constructed at the site of a destroyed mosque. For the first time, the demographic invasion pitches Kashmiri civilians against Indian nationals, every one of whom will now be seen as a settler.
The resistance, at present crushed with brute force, is being pushed to respond in kind. These changes are inevitably going to create a civil war-like situation in Kashmir because it will pitch a small section of supportive people, against the majority who hold a strong opposition against them.
The world is aware that Israeli settlements have only complicated the already intractable conflict.
While Kashmir is being transformed beyond recognition as every day passes, the Indian Supreme Court is yet to decide on petitions challenging August 5 changes.
All these factors have created a situation of hopelessness in Kashmir. At some point, a world distracted by a pandemic, as well as economic and strategic interests, will need to take stock of the catastrophe in Kashmir.
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