Kashmir shuts down over threat to special rights 

An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard in front of closed shops during a one-day strike called by Kashmiri traders in Srinagar. (AFP)
Updated 06 March 2019
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Kashmir shuts down over threat to special rights 

  • Indian Constitution gives Jammu and Kashmir special status
  • Fear that Muslim-majority demographic will change

NEW DELHI: There was a shutdown in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday over attempts to change a law that gives special rights to the state and the people living there.

Trade associations staged the one-day in strike in protest at calls among the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to change Article 35A, which gives Jammu and Kashmir a special status in the Indian Constitution.

Article 35A confers special status to permanent residents and bars people from outside the state from acquiring any immovable property inside it. It also gives permanent residents special rights and privileges in public sector jobs, acquisition of property in the state, scholarships and other public aid and welfare.

Besides Article 35A, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution also grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

“The BJP has only one agenda in Kashmir and that is to remove Article 370 and 35 A - the two main important provisions that give specials rights to the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” Haji Muhammad Yasin, chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance, told Arab News. “They want to alter the demography of the Muslim majority state by diluting Article 35A and, once they succeed, they can do anything in the valley. It’s a question of the survival of the state. We will oppose any attempt to alter Article 35A with all our might.”

The shutdown came days ahead of a crucial hearing in the Supreme Court on Article 35A that will decide if the constitutional provision is valid.

Last September the BJP’s Ashwini Upadhyay questioned Article 35A’s validity and filed a plea with the Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

His petition said that the provision was a temporary one and it, along with Article 370, had lapsed with the dissolution of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly in 1957.

The provision was incorporated in 1954 by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

“The question on Article 35A is sub judice and it is premature to comment on this,” the valley’s BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat told Arab News. “No political party or group has a right to talk about or discuss this issue when the matter is pending in court.”

She said she would respect whatever judgement came in the Supreme Court.

Other political parties have warned about the consequences of changing or scrapping Article 35A.

“We have to get united and sit together to chalk out a strategy to save Article 35A because if there is any tampering with it, then there will be no question of saving Article 35A, but about saving Jammu and Kashmir,” Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of the state and leader of the People’s Democratic Party, told Arab News.

Sheikh Showkat Hussain, professor at the Central University of Kashmir, said Article 35A protected the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir, its properties and services.

“It’s a fundamental rights for everyone to move and settle down anywhere in India. It was anticipated that people would come and settle down in Jammu and Kashmir, so constitutional provisions were made in 1954 to protect the state from outside settlers. But such exclusive provision does not exist only for Kashmir, there are other states also where special provisions have been made to protect the rights of the local inhabitants,”  he told Arab News.

“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - the ideological godfather of the BJP - has long been saying that the demography of Jammu and Kashmir needs to be altered and today’s politics are the reflection of that thought. The politics around Article 35A are part of the majoritarian project of Hindu right-wing parties.”

He said the BJP wanted to create “Kashmir phobia, Pakistan phobia” to consolidate the Hindu vote ahead of elections this year.


Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

Updated 3 min 50 sec ago
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Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

  • Activists are planning more protests, hoping to win attention and support
  • hundreds of thousands marched in a June 16 protest

HONG KONG: China promised that for 50 years after Britain gave up control of its last colony, this shimmering financial enclave would get to keep freedoms absent in the communist-ruled mainland. Twenty-two years on, those are rights many here believe Hong Kong cannot live without.
The hundreds of thousands who marched in a June 16 protest over a now-shelved extradition bill, and those still demonstrating, are signaling alarm that Hong Kong may become just another Chinese city as those protections unravel and Beijing’s influence expands in the territory.
Activists are planning more protests for Wednesday, hoping to win attention and support from world leaders gathering in Osaka, Japan, for the Group of 20 summit later this week.
“This is not about a power struggle,” said Bonnie Leung, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, one of a number of groups involved in organizing recent protests over the legislation. “This is about the values that make the world a better place.”
“The whole world, whoever has connections with Hong Kong, would be stakeholders,” she said.
All of those involved — the territory’s top official, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the police, lawmakers, the protesters and the rest of Hong Kong — are caught up in tensions stemming from the “one country, two systems” colonial legacy that bequeathed a Western-style civic society under a political system controlled by Beijing.
The protests erupted after Beijing-backed Lam tried to push through legislation that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to face trial in Communist Party-dominated courts in mainland China. Many in Hong Kong viewed the bill as another step toward curbing protections they expect from their legal system.
While they come from all walks of life, the protesters share a determination to preserve those freedoms, said Samson Yuen, a professor at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University.
“This protest has drawn everybody in town together,” he said. “They really value the freedom to speak up and protest.”
Jerome A. Cohen, a leading expert on Chinese law and government, said the extradition bill would have deprived local authorities of the right to prevent forcible transfers by China of suspects, including visitors, “for detention, trial and punishment that violate international standards of justice.”
The bill also would have enabled China to require Hong Kong authorities to freeze and confiscate assets of alleged suspects, Cohen wrote in a recent blog post. Efforts to limit the cases subject to extradition would not prevent suspects from being subject to China’s “incommunicado torture chambers, its denial of competent legal defenders and its unfair trials.”
Most Hong Kong residents belong to families that fled poverty and political upheavals in the communist mainland. British rule did not bequeath them democracy, but it laid the foundations for strong civic institutions, schools, health care — as well as a laissez faire trading regime dominated by business leaders deeply invested in keeping Hong Kong as it is.
Normally reluctant to wade into political matters or criticize Beijing, businesses also expressed concern over the extradition bill, with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce noting that the protests reflected “serious apprehensions.” The chamber welcomed the government’s decision to suspend the bill, as did its American and British counterparts.
It’s unclear if the turnout for another big protest planned for the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to Chinese control might match the earlier ones.
Lam’s push for the now stalled legislation, ill-timed around the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and the tear gas, steel batons and other aggressive tactics used by police, especially in June 12 protests that turned violent, helped draw people young and old into the streets.
Activists want an investigation into the complaints over police violence, along with Lam’s resignation and other demands. But the continued protests reflect a deeper sense of grievance and unease, especially among Hong Kong residents coming of age in an era of declining economic opportunity, said Ken Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings.
“Social mobility is more and more theoretical in Hong Kong, so young people continue to be very dissatisfied. There’s a broader concern about China in Hong Kong. The economy’s not growing like people thought it would grow,” Courtis said.
In many respects, Hong Kong faces the same sorts of challenges of other developed economies with aging populations and slowing growth.
The city of 7 million has an economy that is bigger than Vietnam’s and a per capita GDP of more than $46,000. But controls on land use favor property developers, and half the apartments available rent for $2,550 a month or more, while median monthly incomes are about $2,300.
In a city dominated by business leaders and other elites, the only leverage protesters can wield is “the power of numbers,” said Yuen, noting that surveys of those participating in protests in recent weeks generally identify with the city’s “grassroots or lower classes.”
“They see themselves as lower class because of crony capitalism in Hong Kong. It’s very hard for them to get a fine paying job and also to buy an apartment in Hong Kong,” he said.
Brian Chow, one of the protesters sitting in the sweltering heat on a recent day outside the city’s Legislative Council building, said he wasn’t the “type” to get involved in violence.
“I’ll just carry on sitting here, sing some Christian hymns, show our resistance, keep the government paralyzed until it responds to us,” he said.
After protesters blocked lines in the tax and immigration offices downtown on Monday, the government issued a statement appealing to them to “act peacefully and rationally when expressing their opinions and not to affect those in need of government services.”
In her apologies over the extradition bill fiasco, Lam appealed for “another chance” and said she would focus on improving the economy and resolving the housing crisis.
Chinese officials warned against “outside interference” but made a point of backing Lam’s decision to sideline the proposal. At a time of severe trade friction with the US, Beijing’s higher priority lies in preserving Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub and free port, Courtis said.
“People in Beijing are pragmatic. They see time in terms of many years,” he said. “Step sideways here, if that’s not enough then step backwards. Now you focus on making the economy work and keeping people happy.”