Kashmir demographic shift

July 14, 2020

Concern continues to mount in Indian-held Kashmir after a move to grant more domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris who wish to reside or apply for government work in the disputed territory.Critics...

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Concern continues to mount in Indian-held Kashmir after a move to grant more domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris who wish to reside or apply for government work in the disputed territory.

Critics suggest that the move will cause a demographic shift in Kashmir, which currently has a Muslim majority, according to the 2011 census, accounting for roughly 68 per cent of the population.

Kashmir has been a disputed territory since the Partition of India in 1947. The Maharajah of Kashmir, Hari Singh, initially favoured establishing an independent state but was pressured to accede to India in response to the presence of raiders in the region. The UN stepped in to resolve the dispute and so a UN resolution in 1948 was initiated to establish the conditions for a plebiscite (a vote involving the entire electorate). This never took place, however, so the dispute remains between India and Pakistan over whether Kashmir should be independent or accede to one of the two nations. If the analyses by critics are correct and the granting of domicile certificates are intended to alter Kashmir’s demographics, then India, having revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir thereby assuming governmental control, could call a plebiscite and thus achieve their favoured outcome to this ongoing 73-year dispute.

The move to grant more certificates to outsiders in Kashmir is thus of understandable concern in growing tensions between Pakistan and India, an already volatile relationship. What is also concerning is the lack of coverage on the development in Western media, which is a symptom of a wider international problem. Namely, that Western countries only express true outrage if their interests are at stake. While Kashmiris genuinely fear that the very make-up of their society is being altered for some ulterior, Hindutva motive, there is radio silence from Western media.

Comparisons have been drawn between this developing situation in Kashmir to that in Palestine, as the potential demographic shift in Kashmir may be compared to the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The reason why these domicile certificates may be granted to non-Kashmiris is because of India’s decision to remove the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and to assume governmental control of the region. Thus, the demographics of both Kashmir and Palestine are not wholly defined by the legal residents of the regions.

Politicians in the UK, who have expressed support for Kashmir and Palestine, largely do not belong to the party in power, the Conservative Party, but there have been some cross-party conferences in support of self-determination in both regions. But it remains true that the response is relatively muted by issues that are closer to home, like Brexit.

The silence in Western media, in response to the granting of domicile certificates in Kashmir, seems to be another symptom of the prevailing narrative that Muslims are always the perpetrators and never the victims.

The similarities run deep between Kashmir and Palestine in that the majority of Kashmiris and Palestinians are Muslims who are being oppressed. The Kashmiris by the Hindu nationalists of Modi’s BJP government and the Palestinians by Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Any belief in the superiority of one group over another based on religion is inherently wrong and contrary to the values espoused by the US and UK, yet they have failed to apply adequate pressure to encourage an international solution. Unfortunately, it is no surprise that the fears of Kashmiri and Palestinian Muslims are ignored by the US and the UK when President Trump’s 2015 presidential campaign depended upon his despicable desire for a ban on all Muslims entering the country and our Prime Minister here in the UK belittled Burqa-clad women as “letterboxes”.

These Islamophobic attitudes reflect the reprehensible colonial and Orientalist assumptions that continue to influence Western perspectives on Islamic countries and Muslims worldwide. In his seminal work, Orientalism, Edward Said stated: “It seems a common human failing to prefer the schematic authority of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human.”

Unfortunately, this is still true to this day. Those European Orientalists, like Evelyn Baring, defined Middle Eastern and Asian countries as inherently inferior to the West based on limited encounters with the natives which fuelled misguided and racist stereotypes of non-Europeans.

These views were documented in texts which were accepted as gospel and now continue to unconsciously define the way in which European powers view Islamic nations and Muslims. Consequently, concerns amid Muslim Kashmiris that fair representation is increasingly becoming a fairy-tale dream are not taken seriously internationally.

The decision of Prime Minister Modi to revoke Kashmir’s special status was already deeply concerning, especially given the brutal lockdown that he has initiated in the region. But the granting of these domicile certificates marks an unsettling unilateral move in the region which will not only further strain Indian-Pakistani relations but could result in greater unrest, mainly at the expense of Kashmiris above all others — a people who have already suffered violation after violation.

It is thus incumbent on not only the forces directly involved to re-evaluate but also for international powers to raise their voices and act in order to protect those that are most vulnerable, the Kashmiris.

The writer has just completed her MTheol degree at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and now works as a researcher.

Twitter: MaryFloraHunter

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