Kashmiris have been heavily bearing the brunt of Modi regime’s onslaught since the day it revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir guaranteed to it under article 370 of the Indian constitution. It is utterly shocking that this sickening double-edged onslaught with no foreseeable end has been going on unabated as the hapless Kashmiris find themselves in one crisis upon the other.
The war-torn region is now witnessing a new trend of state persecution under the pretext of an anti-encroachment drive in 20 districts. State land measuring 178,005.213 acres has been identified in the Kashmir region, and 25,159.56 acres have been identified in the Jammu region. The identified land belongs to the residents who own it under the Big Landed Estate Abolition Act (Agrarian Reforms Act), JK State Land Vesting of Ownership Act 2001, JK Evacuees (Administration) of Property Act, Jammu and Kashmir Tenancy Act 1980, Jammu and Kashmir Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1956 and other numerous orders passed by the erstwhile state government in favour of the landless peasants.
Having faced terror and trauma for decades, Kashmiris are yet again in the middle of an unimaginable crisis, triggered by a so-called land eviction drive that continues unquestioned because of complete state impunity and the lack of accountability. Bulldozers haphazardly roll across hundreds of homes and raze business establishments to the ground without any prior notice.
Reports pouring in from Kashmir reveal that the authorities in collaboration with the police had demolished the homes and properties of residents in at least four districts of Srinagar, Budgam, Anantnag and Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir between February 4 and 5. The suffering victims told the media that they did not receive any prior notices from the administration. Many of them also claim to have documents proving the ownership of their properties. But the authorities did not give them an opportunity to present their claims before running bulldozers over their homes.
Apart from material losses, the ruthless home demolition campaign being carried out under the guise of ‘anti-encroachment’ has led to internal displacement of men, women, children, and even people with disabilities. But the RSS-influenced regime that continues to treat Kashmiri Muslims with contempt has been relentlessly and selectively demolishing their homes, rendering thousands homeless. Unfortunately, the right-wing Hindutva warriors and saffron gangs feel proud of circulating videos on social media of wailing mothers whose homes have been torn down.
The eviction drive is in fact a part of the Hindu supremacist regime’s largescale land-grabbing campaign, which is perceived by Kashmiris as a conspiracy to dilute the Muslim-majority character of the disputed region.
After taking Kashmir under its direct control, New Delhi had introduced a series of new laws to allow any of its nationals to buy land in the disputed territory. The new laws placed enormous powers in the hands of the government allowing it to use the lands acquired for industrial or commercial purposes to be disposed of or sold to any Indian citizen. The policy, which goes in sync with Israel’s settler colonialism project, has raised the fear of New Delhi’s intensified control over the territory. Slow and steady, India has been turning Kashmir into a Palestine. After depriving Kashmiris of their statehood, they are now being displaced from their ancestral land.
Kashmiri experts have time and again expressed fear that the settler colonialism policy being practiced by the Indian government in Kashmir would lead to dislocation and deprivation of the local population. The arbitrary acts of demolition constitute a serious violation of international law. Sadly, the Modi government has been brazenly violating these laws, which clearly state that countries must ensure protection against forced evictions and the human right to adequate housing and secure tenure, guaranteed without discrimination of any kind.
Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which India is a state party, everyone has the right to adequate housing. This includes prohibiting forced evictions. But the ongoing demolition and eviction drive is being carried out with full force. Despite an appeal by human rights experts to halt the evictions, the occupation authorities have refused to stop the demolitions.
Responding to the ongoing demolition drive in the Kashmir valley, Aakar Patel, chair of board for Amnesty International India said, “The ongoing demolitions appear to be an extension of the brutal human rights violations the region of Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim majority region of India, has historically witnessed. These demolitions could amount to forced evictions which constitute a gross violation of human rights.”
“The Indian authorities must immediately halt the demolition drive and ensure that safeguards against forced evictions as outlined in international human rights standards are put in place before any evictions are carried out,” Patel said, adding that no one should be made homeless or vulnerable to other human rights violations because of evictions.
Millions of hectares of state land in Jammu and Kashmir is already under the illegal occupation of the Indian army. Purportedly, 430,000 kanals of land in Indian-occupied Kashmir is under the unauthorised occupation of army and other security forces. In 2016, the former chief minister of the state Ms Mehbooba Mufti revealed in the legislative assembly that 51,116 kanals of state land in Jammu and 379,817 kanals of land in Kashmir and Ladakh is under the unauthorised occupation of the army and other security forces. The CRPF, PSF and Indo-Tibetan Border Police are illegally occupying a total of 855, 407 kanals of land, and the rights of 199,314 kanals of land have been transferred by the state government to the army and other agencies under local law.
In Ladakh the Indian army has set up its camps and other installations over more than 403,600 kanals. Similarly, the army and paramilitary units have set up their camps and installations over thousands of kanals of land in other areas of northern, southern and central Kashmir. In 2022, the state administration allocated thousands of kanals of land to the armed forces, that too in tourist areas of Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Pahalgam areas of the valley.
On the other hand, the Modi government has launched a massive campaign to evict Kashmiris from their lands and properties. In central Kashmir’s three districts (Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam) the occupation authorities have identified thousands of locations spread over 41,869 acres of alleged state land. In north Kashmir’s districts Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora, the authorities have identified 82,440 acres. Similarly, in south Kashmir’s four districts including Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag (Islamabad) the occupying authorities have identified different locations possessing 53,695 acres of alleged state land.
According to the revenue department, majority of the land is utilized for residential, commercial, agriculture, and non-agriculture purposes. In urban areas, residential structures and shops belong to lower middle-class people, whereas in rural areas land is in possession of the lower segments of the society. Any attempt to dislodge them from these lands will lead to their economic disempowerment.
India’s goal has always been to take advantage of Kashmir’s resources, replace the indigenous population with an invasive settler society, and control Kashmiris by occupying their lands. All that the Modi regime wishes to do in Kashmir is to establish an exclusively private property regime, change the political nature of the Kashmir dispute through demographic changes, political manoeuvrings, and administrative machinations, and deprive its people of the right to self-determination promised to them by the international community.
The writer is the Chairman of Islamabad based think tank, Kashmir Institute of International Relations (KIIR)