Not only is the present and the future under a brutal political, geographical, territorial, cultural and religious assault but also Jammu and Kashmir’s past is being erased and rewritten with every amendment that takes away another inch from the people.
The day October 27, is etched in the memories of Kashmir for an abundance of reasons. October 27th 1947 can be seen in as many lights as the Kashmir conflict itself. For some, the day marked the invasion of tribal forces from Pakistan, for some it marks the day Kashmiris posed their trust and belief in the secular Indian democracy and for some, it is the day the Kashmir Conflict was born.
On October 27, 2020, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notified new land laws for the Union Territories (UTs) of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, which also omit preconditions on purchase of land in the erstwhile state that was in vogue till Article 370 was there. This notification calls off the condition of domicile and states “omit, being a permanent resident of the State”.
In its notification the Centre has amended the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act, 1996, which clearly implies that anyone can purchase land in Jammu and Kashmir now; except agricultural land, which can only be transferred/sold to an agriculturist in JK, however, Government can authorize an agriculturist to alienate land to a non-agriculturist for sale, gift, and exchange. In its further mockery of the domicile law, the Centre now maintains that the “spouse of a domicile shall also be deemed to be a domicile”. However, this aspect earlier was only applicable to children of Central Government officials posted in Jammu and Kashmir for a total period of ten years who are also eligible as domiciles.
This notification raises a whole array of questions over what went wrong with the sudden spree in which the MHA appeared to be practically distributing certificates to applicants. Were the certificates not able to accommodate the kind of demographic change that BJP was aiming for? Or were the certificates found to be benefiting Muslims that the BJP debunked the importance previously allotted to PR certificates?
In its continuous assault targeted to turn the only Muslim majority state into a minority, the BJP is doing everything it can do. From repealing the conditions associated with the accession, Article 370, to UTization, to the dissolution of the legislative assembly, to the installation of Lieutenant Governor, to ridding people off their constitutional guarantees, to the disempowerment of the local languages, to the emboldening powers vested with the Army for the acquisition of ‘Strategic Lands’, to now repealing land laws, all the changes that the two August’s encompass only aim at rendering people powerless and coercing them to submit to the powerful MHA. Land laws including the Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Fragmentation of Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960; J&K Prohibition on Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act, 1975; the J&K Right of Prior Purchase ACT, 1936 A.D; Section 3 of the J&K Tenancy (Stay of Ejectment Proceedings) Act 1966; the J&K Utilization of Land Act, 2010; and the J&K Underground Utilities (Acquisition of rights of user in Land) Act, all stand repealed.
The notification not only calls for the setting up of a new body, the Jammu and Kashmir Industrial Development Corporation and allows the Government to foster the Corporation in case it is unable to acquire land. This makes the entire UT of Jammu and Kashmir up for grabs by the virtue of the Government deeming the taker fit for acquisition.
Another problematic rather, whimsical power that finds itself under the amended Jammu and Kashmir Development Act, 1970, the Government may on the written request of an Army officer not below the rank of Corp Commander, declare an area as “Strategic Area” within a local area only for direct operational and training requirements of armed forces. These amendments are to pave direction for notifying certain areas as strategic areas in terms of requirement of armed forces and in such areas; the regulation of construction activity shall be through a special dispensation. In the same way, the establishment of Security Zones is bound to turn the valley into a military camp. Granting unwarranted and unfettered control to the Army as well as the unchecked access to outsiders to snatch lands from the locals will only result in more resentment and animosity towards the Indian state.
In the last three-decade, Kashmir has seen a steady conversion of farmland into non-agricultural. In the last six years alone, about 20 per cent of agricultural land has been converted for commercial or residential purposes. According to Jammu and Kashmir Economic Survey report, 2014-15 states that 70 per cent of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture. Though assurances have been made that agricultural land would remain untouched by outsiders, who knows what is happening next.
An approximate 48 per cent land in Jammu and 50 per cent land in Kashmir is forest land, while the government has opened the region for acquisition by outsiders, there has been little or no botheration by the Centre to protect the flora and fauna in the region. Taking the case of forest land, the Government went on a rampage right after abrogation diverting over 727 hectares of designated forest land between September 18 and October 21. It also approved the felling of at least 1,847 trees, which includes 1,471 trees inside designated forest areas and 376 trees in areas earmarked for social forestry. Kashmir, as a region, has already lost Kargil, and yet again it is preparing to lose its receding forest cover by the devastating legislations of Government of India.
While the people have been rendered stateless for over a year, the ruling party is now aiming to render the people landless as well. All these amendments, legislation and decisions are rooted in the idea of making Kashmir another Jammu, making Kashmir another one of the Hindu majority states. As BJP made claims of greater integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country, it is only facilitating greater claims of Indians on Kashmir, no amendment; no legislation has given any Kashmiri greater claim over India.
What transpired in October 1947, when Muslims were massacred indiscriminately in Jammu comes to meet what has been decreed in October 2020. To minimize, overrun and finally make the Muslim population disappear in Kashmir is the undercurrent of BJP’s manifesto since 2014.
Squeezing space for dialogue, killing the spirit of democracy and brutalizing those who dare to hymn anything other than praises for BJP, Kashmir is losing and losing every day since August 5, 2019 – losing safeguards from laws to leaders, to language, and now to lands.
Jammu and Kashmir has not just witnessed UTization, it is under the process of disappearing, vanishing and being erased. Not only is the present and the future under a brutal political, geographical, territorial, cultural and religious assault but also Jammu and Kashmir’s past is being erased and rewritten with every amendment that takes away another inch from the people.
(@tarushi_aswani is an independent journalist. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)