Designing demography in Kashmir
It is no secret that Indian authorities and many of the country’s politicians have long harboured secret and not-so-secret designs of converting the Muslim majority of occupied Jammu and Kashmir into a minority and eroding the state’s Muslim character. For decades, plans to change Kashmir’s demography and its religious and ethnic identity have gone hand in hand with the use of brute force to stamp out the Kashmir freedom movement and are seen by many Indians as the ‘final solution’ of the Kashmir problem.
These plans, which were previously kept under wraps, have come into the open under the BJP government which swept into power in India last May. A partial glimpse into the party’s intentions was given in its election manifesto. Besides reiterating its commitment to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the BJP also promised the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the valley and steps to “address long-pending problems and demands of [Hindu] refugees from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”.
Both these groups belong to Jammu and Kashmir and, on the face of it, there would be nothing objectionable in giving them their due rights. But lurking behind the seemingly innocuous words of the manifesto are sinister plans to use them as the fifth column against the Kashmir people’s struggle to free themselves from Indian rule.
The BJP’s intentions become clearer from the party’s campaign strategy for elections to the state assembly held last November-December and from the ‘vision document’ it released shortly before those polls. In the Jammu area, the BJP stressed its promise to end “regional imbalance” in state politics, a code word for the domination of state politics by the more populous valley. The party has also made it clear in its ongoing negotiations with PDP on the formation of a coalition government that it will stand firm in the demand for ‘regional balance’.
The BJP’s manifesto for the recently held state elections also contains three concrete promises designed to tilt the demographic and political balance in favour of the Hindu population of Jammu and Kashmir.
First, it promised to reserve three out of the 46 seats allocated to the valley in the 87-member state assembly for the Kashmiri Pandits. This proposal might have had some merit if there was a similar reservation of seats for Muslims of the Jammu region in proportion to their share of the population, but that of course is out of the question in ‘secular’ India.
Second, the BJP manifesto promised to reserve five seats for Hindu refugees from “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir” out of the 24 seats currently kept vacant by the ‘constitution’ of Occupied Kashmir for areas under Pakistani administration. That would bring the total number of seats reserved for Hindus to eight, further reducing if not eliminating the majority enjoyed so far by the Muslim members in the state assembly.
Third, the BJP manifesto promised the grant of “citizenship rights” to “refugees from West Pakistan”, including the right to vote in state assembly and local elections, the right to own immovable property and the right to take government jobs.
The term ‘West Pakistan refugees’ is employed in India to describe non-Muslims, mainly Hindus, who migrated from Pakistan to Occupied Kashmir at the time of Partition in 1947. Most of them, about 90 percent according to some estimates, are Dalits. They are citizens of India under Indian law and can vote in elections to the Indian parliament but they are not ‘state subjects’ of Jammu and Kashmir under a law of the state dating back to 1927 which was designed to protect the local people from being squeezed out by outsiders from government jobs and from ownership of land. This law has long been considered sacrosanct in order to preserve the precarious ethnic and religious balance in the state. Because of this law, the ‘West Pakistan refugees’ cannot vote for the state assembly. Also, they cannot own land in the state or take jobs in the state government.
There are no reliable figures on the size of the ‘West Pakistan refugee’ population. According to a local organisation which represents these ‘refugees’, their number is around 250,000. Pro-azadi groups put the figure at about 500,000. If they are granted the rights of state subjects, the ethnic and religious complexion of occupied Kashmir as well as the political balance would be further skewed to the disadvantage of the Muslim population of the state.
Some Kashmiris have also expressed the fear that the grant of the status of state subject – or of permanent resident, which is almost identical – to the ‘West Pakistan refugees’ is the thin end of the wedge and would open the door also to those who have been brought to Kashmir from Indian states like Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, Bengal and Kerala and settled in the Jammu region under a well-thought out plan to bring about demographic change in Jammu and Kashmir and dispossess and disempower the Kashmiris.
The BJP’s demand for the grant of state subject status to “West Pakistan refugees” has now received a major boost from a committee of the Indian parliament. In a report presented on December 22, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs strongly recommended that ‘West Pakistan refugees’ be granted the status of permanent residents of the state and of state subjects. The committee also recommended the allocation of eight seats in the state assembly to Hindu refugees from Azad Kashmir.
The recommendations of the parliamentary committee can only take effect if they are approved by the state assembly of Occupied Kashmir. But pending that approval, the Indian government issued executive orders earlier this month to facilitate the recruitment of ‘West Pakistan refugees’ in the central paramilitary forces and in the armed forces and provide their children a quota of seats in educational institutions.
The reaction within Occupied Kashmir to these moves has been sharply divided along regional and religious lines. In the Muslim-dominated valley, there has been a wave of uproar against what is seen as a transparent effort to change the demographic character and Islamic identity of Jammu and Kashmir. In sharp contrast, political parties in Hindu-dominated Jammu have welcomed the recommendations of the parliamentary committee. Hindu organisations in the region have also threatened public agitation to push their demand.
Pressure is also building up in the valley to mobilise the public against giving voting and other rights to Hindu refugees from Pakistan. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the APHC and a number of other political parties, civil society organisations and Islamic religious leaders have sharply denounced the move as an attempt to turn the Muslims of the sate into a minority. Even the National Conference and the PDP have tried to distance themselves from these proposals.
As the Mirwaiz has said, by changing the demography of Kashmir, India is seeking to create new facts on the ground in pursuit of its aim of forcible integration of the state. The Indian moves are in violation of the international status of Kashmir as disputed territory and of India’s obligations under Security Council resolutions.
Abhorrent as India’s designs are, what is even more shocking is that the Nawaz government has been completely passive in the face of India’s actions. It has been almost a month since the recommendations of the Indian Parliamentary Committee became public knowledge, and for about ten days now, the Valley has been seething with anger over the Indian machinations.
Yet, Pakistan has been completely silent as if these events were happening on another planet. The government appears to have forgotten that Pakistan is committed to providing moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people’s struggle for self-determination. It also does not seem to remember that Pakistan is a party to the dispute.
Pakistan must take a clear position on current events in the occupied state in the context of UNSC resolutions. But a mere statement will not be enough. The government must also take up this matter bilaterally with India and raise it forcefully in the UN and other international forums.
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.
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