Any Indian citizen can buy land in Muslim Kashmir, says government, in 'Hindu land grab'

Joe Wallen
Farmers and their children protest the new bill - NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images
Farmers and their children protest the new bill - NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images

All Indians are now allowed to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, in a controversial move that human rights activists say amounts to a Hindu "land grab".

Kashmiris have long accused the Hindu-nationalist government of trying to force demographic change by encouraging Hindu migration to India’s only Muslim-majority region, which borders Pakistan.

In August 2019, Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, scrapped the autonomous status that the state had since independence and split it into two union territories, in an attempt to bring the conflict-ridden region under greater central control.

A violent pro-independence insurgency has raged in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989 and the Indian authorities are accused of carrying out gross human rights abuses against civilians.

Prior to the ruling, non-Kashmiris could only apply for residency if they had lived in the region for 15 years, meaning demographic change had been very slow.

Kashmiri refugees hold a rally to mark India's annexation of the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir  - Chudary Naseer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Kashmiri refugees hold a rally to mark India's annexation of the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir - Chudary Naseer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

This is now expected to rapidly accelerate and there are fears of heightened tensions, as the Indian Government also pushes ahead with plans to resettle hundreds of thousands of Hindu Pandit refugees who were forced to flee Kashmir during inter-communal violence in 1989.

“It’s clear the main agenda of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to grab more land and change the demography in Kashmir,” said Khurram Parvez, a leading Kashmiri human rights activist, “The fears and allegations of the Kashmiri people have been proven right.”

“The decision to make the 1.3 billion people of India party to our land is a leaf out of the Israeli-model of settlements to change the demography of Muslim-majority Kashmir,” said Reyaz Ahmad, a Kashmiri political analyst.

Shopkeepers across Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday closed their doors in anticipation of violent protests and clashes.

There are approximately 600,000 members of the Indian Army stationed in the region after India brought the state under full control of New Delhi last year.

Mehbooba Mufti, the last Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, told the Daily Telegraph that she strongly opposed the new law, the latest in a string of controversial Hindu nationalist policies introduced by the BJP.

“The BJP wants to put everything on sale in the only Muslim majority state, especially our land. This is part of a larger Hindu nationalist agenda and a warped idea of a Hindu rashtra [homeland],” said Ms Mufti.

Mr Modi argues the removal of residency laws will stimulate Jammu and Kashmir’s economy, which is heavily dependent on agriculture and tourism.

However, activists say the restoration of internet connectivity would provide a much greater economic stimulus.

The Indian Government is yet to reinstate high-speed mobile internet to Indian-administered Kashmir, the largest internet blackout in any democracy, after the state was brought under Indian control.

The internet ban has cost the Kashmiri economy an estimated £1.85 billion between August and December 2019 alone, according to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, also raised concerns over the Indian government’s motivation for scrapping the residency laws.

“If you take the Indian government at its word around stimulating investment, promoting development and women’s rights, then why is it not also removing similar residency laws which are in place in other states in the north-east?”

The recent Chinese annexation of at least 60 square kilometres of Indian territory in the neighbouring state of Ladakh has also spurred New Delhi into tightening its control over Jammu and Kashmir.

Both union territories border Pakistan - a key Chinese ally - which has supported the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir.