WHILE the world is preoccupied with battling the Covid-19 contagion, elements within the Indian establishment, unfortunately, are still busy stirring up mischief in India-held Kashmir.
As reported in this paper on Thursday, India has passed new domicile rules for IHK which, in effect, guarantee a massive demographic shift in the region, and are a grim follow-up to last year’s scrapping of the disputed region’s autonomous status. As per available details, anyone who has resided in IHK for 15 years or has studied there for a specific period of time is eligible to call occupied Kashmir his or her place of domicile.
Kashmiri activists have rightly called the move a sinister attempt to change the demographic profile of the disputed area. They say the new law will allow those from outside the region to snap up jobs and benefits that should be primarily available to Kashmiris. Even Omar Abdullah, a loyalist former chief minister of IHK, who was recently released from detention by New Delhi, has heaped criticism on India for making the move at this time. “Talk about suspect timing... the government slips in a new domicile law for J&K,” he has said.
It is highly condemnable that during a raging global health crisis the Indian state has sought to ignite a new controversy in IHK. While the held region has been under lockdown for over a year, now India itself — along with large swathes of the world — is also under a lengthy self-imposed closure to keep the coronavirus at bay.
These times call for humanitarian measures and firm policy to protect people’s lives and health. This is no time for sly political games, but it appears those who matter in New Delhi are unmoved by such facts. India should not add to the Kashmiri peoples’ miseries and, instead of this bureaucratic subterfuge, it should adopt a conciliatory policy towards the disputed region that aims to settle this decades-old dispute peacefully, and as per the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2020