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

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.

French PM pays homage to aid workers killed in Niger

Updated 14 August 2020

French PM pays homage to aid workers killed in Niger

  • PM Jean Castex sought to assure the parents of the four women and two men that all of France mourned their passing
  • The six, their Nigierien guide and driver, were killed on Sunday in a wildlife haven about an hour’s drive southeast of Niamey

PARIS: France’s prime minister led a memorial service Friday for six aid workers killed in Niger in what investigators said had likely been a premeditated attack targeting Westerners.
As the six caskets lay side by side in the VIP section of Orly Airport south of Paris, where the bodies arrived Friday from Niamey, Jean Castex sought to assure the parents of the four women and two men that all of France mourned their passing.
“In front of these six coffins... I want first of all to express the pain, the incomprehension, the anger of all French people,” said the premier as he saluted the youngsters’ generosity and altruism.
“The victims of this attack came to Niger to do good. They met with evil.”
The six, their Nigierien guide and driver, were killed on Sunday in a wildlife haven about an hour’s drive southeast of Niamey.
The area is a popular destination for weekend leisure trips by Niamey residents, including foreigners.
They worked for French NGO Acted and were aged between 25 and 30.
“This incarnation of evil, France unfortunately knows it only too well... it is very likely the same hatred, the same cowardice, the same inhumanity at work in Niger and Bataclan,” the Parisian concert venue targeted by extremists in 2015, said Castex.
And he stressed there was “no question of giving an inch of ground to criminal fanaticism or to enemies of the freedom to act, think and engage.”
Earlier, a source close to an ongoing investigation by French anti-terror prosecutors told AFP the attack “appears to have been premeditated to target a priori mainly Westerners.”
France’s anti-terror prosecutor’s office said Monday it would probe charges of murder “with links to a terrorist enterprise” and “criminal terrorist association” in relation to the killings.
A team of 11 specialized investigators departed France for Niger the following day.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack carried out by gunmen on motorcycles.
But “given the modus operandi, the terrorist hypothesis is being favored,” the source told AFP.
Suspicion has fallen on Daesh in the Great Sahara, active in the shared border region of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, where it is being pursued by France’s Barkhane force fighting extremists in the Sahel.
The French investigation will seek to determine whether the assailants had been tipped off about the humanitarians’ visit to the national park.
French President Emmanuel Macron has described it as “manifestly a terrorist attack” and said there would be repercussions.
“We’re pursuing action to eradicate the terrorist groups, with the strengthened support of our partners,” Macron said.