Why Kashmiris protest New Delhi imposed new laws, policy changes in post-370 Valley?

The policy of harassment, intimidation and threatening journalists for highlighting people’s issues has frequently been reported in J&K but with the introduction of New Media Policy the government seems to have given this policy of intimidation an official sanctum. Photo: Mubashir Hassan/Maktoob

This is an excerpt from Six Monthly Review of Human Rights Situation in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir (January to June 2020), a bi-annual review of Human Rights in Jammu & Kashmir published by Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society & Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons.

Jammu and Kashmir Re-organisation Act and Domicile Law

On August 5, 2019, the government announced in Parliament the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir and split the state into two Union Territories (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The relegation of J&K from a state with special status to a separate union territory gave a direct control on the territory and more powers to the central BJP-led government via the appointment of Lieutenant Governor. It practically limits the autonomy of the state legislature of J&K that was awarded to it via Article 370 of the Indian constitution.

The Governmnet of India’s approval is in line with Section 96 of the Jammu and Kashmir Re-organisation Act 2019, that came into effect on October 31, 2019. Later the order was issued by the department of J&K and Ladakh for an adaptation of Central Laws was also promulgated. It ordered application of 37 central laws envisaged in the Concurrent List to the newly formed UT. The Order notifies changes in the J&K Civil Services (Decentralization and Recruitment) Act (hereafter, “Civil Services Act”), which defines “domicile” for employment in the region. With the abrogation of Article 370, a total of 106 central laws are effective in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. These include some key central legislations including Prevention of Corruption Act, National Commission for Minorities Act and Land Acquisition Act.

The J&K Re-organisation Order disempowers the state legislature of J&K from ascertaining ‘permanent residents’ and their right to employment, as was provided under Article 35A of the Indian constitution. The order is nothing but another step by India to settle nonindigenous population in the valley by changing the domicile laws. The government of India changed the age old domicile law of the region. Under the domicile law, those who have resided for a period of 15 years in Kashmir are now eligible to become permanent residents. The new law announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs also provided domicile status to the children of central government officials who have served in Indian-administered Kashmir for a total period of 10 years and to those who are registered as migrants by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner (Migrants). The MHA amended 109 laws and repealed 29 laws of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. The MHA amended a 2010 legislation, the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services (Decentralisation and Recruitment Act), by substituting the term “permanent residents” with “domiciles of UT [Union Territory] of J&K.” Now with the settler colonialism being put to operation, the common distinction between armed forces and a civilian would lose the relevance.

The new domicile laws encourage “demographic flooding.” The changes are an erasure of Kashmir’s history and a project in creating homogeneity – so that there is no legal difference between a Kashmiri and someone from any part of India who has lived in Kashmir for a specified period. The new ‘domicile’ rules are a major departure from an established body of historical precedent, law and jurisprudence. This position was guaranteed to Kashmiris under the Delhi Agreement of 1952, the Presidential Order of 1954, Article 35A of the constitution of India and Part III Section 6 of the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.

The new domicile law is India's plan to change the demographics of ...
India is systematically paving the way for forced demographic change in J&K thus institutionalizing a system of domination over indigenous populations. Photo: SWK

India is systematically paving the way for forced demographic change in J&K thus institutionalizing a system of domination over indigenous populations. The order is a clear violation of the 4th Geneva convention. Observers warn that the new Domicile Law could permanently alter the demography of the disputed region and “17.4 lakh people can certainly acquire domicile rights, which constitute roughly 14% of J&K’s population of 1.23 crore in 2011.”

The domicile law also is in violation of ICRC provisions, as the law by its intent, seeks to alter the demographic make-up of the disputed region by unilateral imposition of demographic changes and thereby can be read as possessing ‘genocidal intent.’

J&K Education Investment Policy 2020

According to New Education Policy 2020, ‘the government intends to give due preference to reputed players in the field of education willing to set up universities in J&K. Government will facilitate allotment of land in UT from the specified available land bank and will coordinate with the concerned departments for the required approvals and clearances to facilitate the process of setting up educational institutes in J&K. Now the private players from outside the J&K will be incentivized to set up educational institutions in J&K.

The new education policy aims to whitewash the local history and rewrite the textbooks to represent an obfuscated narrative suitable for the present Government of India. The Narendra Modi government has repeatedly been accused of ‘saffronising’ education – particularly by editing history textbooks. Moreover this is going to put the survival of educated youth of J&K at stake. The arrival of the private players (both of national and international repute for setting up the educational institutes in various academic and professional streams) will reduce the chances of natives at availing the teaching posts in J&K. The course curriculum and syllabus will be designed by outsiders, thus changed completely. With coming of the private players, many colleges will be affiliated to the universities that will be located outside Kashmir and during the curfews and strikes when local schools and colleges are usually closed, the students of the centrally affiliated universities will be bound to go for examination under any circumstances and that will be sold to the outside world in a different manner, thus there will be design to change the narrative and totally different picture of Kashmir will be presented.

New Media Policy

The policy of harassment, intimidation and threatening journalists for highlighting people’s issues has frequently been reported in J&K but with the introduction of New Media Policy the government seems to have given this policy of intimidation an official sanctum.

J&K administration approved the new Media Policy-2020 stating that it was meant for effective communication and public outreach. The Media Policy-2020 allows the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) to “examine” the content of print, electronic and various other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism and unethical or antinational activities.” The administration also stated that the policy attempts to “thwart misinformation, fake news and tries to develop a mechanism that will raise alarm against any attempt to use the media to vitiate public peace, sovereignty and integrity of the country.”

The new media policy has rendered J&K newspapers into government hand-outs. Photo: Mubashir Hassan/Maktoob

The new media policy has rendered J&K newspapers into government hand-outs. The new policy gives J&K administration powers to decide what is ‘fake’, ‘unethical’ or ‘anti-national’ news, and to take legal action against the journalist or media organisation concerned, including stopping government advertisements and sharing information with security agencies.

It also proposes withholding advertisements to “any media which incite or tend to incite violence, question sovereignty and integrity of lndia or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behaviour” and prosecution for “fake news or any news inciting hatred or disturbing communal harmony” under the rules laid down by the IPC and cyber laws.

The new policy have been described as an attempt ‘to kill journalism’ and a ‘remnant of the colonial era.’

This is an attempt to control the narrative and throttle freedom of press, speech and expression. It’s a serious threat to press freedom in J&K. This is a state censorship where government will decide what to publish and what not to. This will mean that the government cannot be criticized. The policy has been framed to muzzle and curb independent journalism. It’s a clear intimidation of journalists. Such anti-democratic gags will jeopardize the free working of press. ‘The new media policy alters this paradigm by making the journalists accountable to the government, which now dons the role of the over-arching watch-dog.’

The regressive policy was sanctioned ten days after the prestigious Pulitzer Prize was awarded to two Kashmiri photojournalists in May. The media policy has been framed in the backdrop of J&K Police filing FIRs against two Kashmiri journalists. Photographer Masrat Zahra and journalist-author Gowhar Geelani were booked under anti-terror laws for social media posts which cyber police found objectionable. These two journalists have been booked under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in April. Police also registered a case over a news report in The Hindu and summoned its Srinagar correspondent, Peerzada Ashiq. The editor of The Kashmir Walla was also summoned by the police in May for the coverage of a gunfight.

New Real Estate Policy

A committee has been set up to frame the policy document, which will allow developers and home buyers from outside the state to invest in Kashmir.

‘In 2018, then State Administrative Council had approved Real Estate Regulatory Act for J&K. However, under the provisions of the J&K Re-organization Act 2019, that Act was repealed as it allowed only state-subjects to buy properties in the erstwhile state. Now the new policy will pave way for outside developers to invest in J&K.’

With the abrogation of Article 370, the army has already set out to buy land for its camps in the Valley. As per the newspaper reports, “The Army has approached Baramulla administration, evincing interest in buying 129 kanal (6.5 hectare) of land at Kreeri high ground at Tapperwari in Pattan area of the north Kashmir district, where the troops are already “temporarily stationed.”

According to Sheikh Ashiq, the president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries ‘In 120 days of lockdown following revocation of article 370 on August 5, Kashmir suffered a loss of Rs 18,000 crore. Photo: Mubashir Hassan/Maktoob

As per the central government “over 56,000 acres of land in Jammu and Kashmir is with several Defence departments, wings, and organizations. Out of that, 18,935 acres are used by forces in Jammu, 3,738 acres in Srinagar, 2,327 acres in Budgam, 2,153 acres in Anantnag, 3,963 acres in Udhampur, and 3,530 acres in Kargil districts.”

According to Sheikh Ashiq, the president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries ‘In 120 days of lockdown following revocation of article 370 on August 5, Kashmir suffered a loss of Rs 18,000 crore. Since August up until now, we have suffered around Rs 30,000 crores of loss. If there is no timely intervention from Government, our economy will perish.’