A UN report on held Kashmir has greatly damaged India’s narrative on Kashmir which it was trying to build for two years. In the report, the UN experts voiced their concern over India’s decision to revoke the occupied Kashmir’s autonomy and enact laws that could curtail the political participation of Muslims and other minorities. They also said Muslims and other minority groups stood to lose on issues such as employment and land ownership.
Reacting to the report, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava, as usual, parroted that Jammu and Kashmir was “an integral part of India” and the changes made in its status were enacted by parliament. He brazenly stated that one of the changes was that laws that were in force in the rest of India would also apply to the people of Kashmir, allowing them the same legal rights as the rest of India, he said. An upset Indian spokesman even questioned the powers of UN experts: “This press release calls into question the larger principles of objectivity and neutrality that the SRs (Special Rapporteurs) are mandated by the Human Rights Council to adhere to.”
The statement by Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, was released as diplomats from nearly two dozen countries concluded a two-day visit to the occupied valley arranged by the Modi Sarkar. Thus, it had more impact and greatly hurt the narrative that India was building for the foreign diplomats. This was clear from the Indian spokesman Srivastava admitting the experts had issued their statement just when India was hosting a group of ambassadors in Kashmir to show them the ground situation and did not wait for a response from the Indian government to their questionnaire. “Instead, they chose to release their inaccurate assumptions to the media. The press release has also been deliberately timed to coincide with the visit of a group of ambassadors to Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
The UN experts noted that on August 5, 2019, India “unilaterally and without consultation” revoked the constitutional special status of the region and passed the so-called domicile rules in May 2020 which removed protections given to those from the occupied territory. Subsequent changes to land laws are further eroding these protections in the only state in India with a Muslim majority. “The loss of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule by the government in New Delhi suggests the people of Jammu and Kashmir no longer have their own government and have lost power to legislate or amend laws in the region to ensure the protection of their rights as minorities,” the UN experts said.
“The number of successful applicants for domicile certificates that appear to be from outside Jammu and Kashmir raises concerns that demographic change on a linguistic, religious and ethnic basis is already under way,” the statement added. “These legislative changes may have the potential to pave the way for people from outside the former state of Jammu and Kashmir to settle in the region, alter the demographics of the region and undermine the minorities’ ability to exercise effectively their human rights,” the experts said.
The diplomats’ visit was greeted with a shutdown in the Valley. They were taken to a government college in Budgam district, shrine in Hazratbal but most elected councillors, senior journalists, top business leaders and politicians were kept away. A foreign news agency was told by Hasnain Masoodi, an Indian lawmaker and former chief justice of the state, that the latest visit is “nothing more than a guided tour” to create an impression that Kashmiris have accepted the enforced change, and all is well. “Peace and silence are two different things. Peace will remain elusive till political aspirations are not addressed,” he said. “Government’s own statistics on violence belie the narrative that things are normal. People don’t have the right to assemble, to protest.”
Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of held Kashmir, was quoted as saying: “delegations come and go but the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is not favorable. We are caged in our homes.”
Some experts said the visit by the foreign envoys was arranged after the Kashmir Solidarity Day, observed by Pakistan on February 5. The day was a national holiday and was marked to show to the Kashmiris and the world at large that Pakistan and its people had not forgotten the long-pending IIOJ&K issue that has resulted in three wars between the two neighbouring countries. The festering problem has led to the barbaric killings of thousands of people in the valley, including women and children. They said India, to counter the impact of the Kashmir Solidarity Day in Pakistan, arranged the visit, which was immediately sabotaged by the UN rights report.
Soon after the diplomats’ visit, three policemen were killed in attacks in the disputed region, two of them in held Srinagar, showing the conflict was not frozen in time and no matter how many guided tours were arranged, ground realities in the disputed region remained the same.