India moves to divide Jammu and Kashmir state despite protests, attacks

The Indian government sent more troops into the Kashmir valley where separatists have been fighting against Indian rule for decades. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

India moves to divide Jammu and Kashmir state despite protests, attacks

  • The state will be directly ruled from New Delhi after the division
  • Broadband and mobile internet connections remain unavailable to most Kashmiris

SRINAGAR, India: India will formally split up disputed Jammu and Kashmir state into two federal territories on Thursday, aiming to tighten its grip on the restive region that has been in the grip of a harsh security clampdown for nearly three months.
Street protests against the measures have erupted sporadically, while militants have killed about a dozen people from outside the state in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government withdrew Kashmir’s autonomy in August but in addition it also announced the division of the state into two territories to be directly ruled from New Delhi — one consisting of Jammu and Kashmir and the other the remote Buddhist enclave of Ladakh. At the same time it poured thousands of more troops into the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley where separatists have been fighting against Indian rule for decades, and made sweeping arrests to prevent any outbreak of violence.
The government also imposed severe restrictions on travel and cut telephone and Internet lines. Some measures have been scaled back but a security lockdown is still largely in place and broadband and mobile Internet connections remain unavailable to most Kashmiris.
Schools and colleges are empty and most shops, restaurants and hotels shut. Hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders and separatists fighting for Kashmir’s secession from India, remain in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests that have in the past turned violent.
Wajahat Habibullah, a former bureaucrat who served in Kashmir and traveled to the region’s main city last month, said Kashmiris felt humiliated to lose their statehood.
“Whatever the attitude of (federal) governments in the past, they at least felt they had something of their own. Now, there is a kind of feeling of having lost whatever freedom they had,” he said.
On Tuesday, suspected militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir shot dead five construction workers who had come to work from eastern India.
Officials said the killings appeared to be part of a campaign to deter outsiders from working in Kashmir. Truckers involved in the apple trade were targeted earlier in the month, also in the southern part of Kashmir, a hotbed of militant activity.
Crowds have also been gathering this week in the streets of Srinagar, the biggest city in Kashmir, and elsewhere, throwing stones at security forces in protest against the continuing clampdown.
New territories
On Thursday, G. C. Murmu, a former bureaucrat from Modi’s home state of Gujarat, will be sworn in as the first lieutenant governor of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the government said.
Another former civil servant, Radha Krishna Mathur, will take office as the lieutenant governor of Ladakh, the Buddhist- dominated high altitude region that has long sought to disentangle itself from Kashmir, on grounds that the turmoil there had hurt its own growth prospects.
The Modi administration is hoping to ramp up tourism and infrastructure investment in Ladakh, known for its snow capped peaks and rocky desert plateaus, and is also an area of dispute with China which lays claims to parts of it.
Within the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, there are expectations that the takeover by the federal government will lead to development and shift the focus away from the Kashmir valley, where the insurgency is centered.
“There are three parts to this story, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The problem is confined to Kashmir and that too a handful of districts. Why should the rest of the state suffer,” said a top official in New Delhi involved in the political strategy to deal with Kashmir.


Police crack down on riots over citizenship bill for non-Muslims

Updated 12 December 2019

Police crack down on riots over citizenship bill for non-Muslims

  • Groups of protesters defied the curfew in Gauhati, the state capital, on Thursday morning and burned tires before police dispersed them
  • Police used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in 10 out of the state’s 33 districts

GAUHATI, India: Police arrested dozens of people and enforced curfew Thursday in several districts in India’s northeastern Assam state where thousands protested legislation granting citizenship to non-Muslims who migrated from neighboring countries.

Groups of protesters defied the curfew in Gauhati, the state capital, on Thursday morning and burned tires before police dispersed them.

Soldiers drove and marched though the streets to reinforce police in violence-hit districts, which included Gauhati and Dibrugarh, said state police chief Bhaskar Mahanta.

The protesters in Assam oppose the legislation out of concern that migrants will move to the border region and dilute the culture and political sway of indigenous tribal people. The legislation was passed by Parliament on Wednesda and now needs to be signed by the country’s ceremonial president, a formality, before becoming law.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for peace and in a tweet said: “I want to assure them — no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow.”

The Press Trust of India news agency said the protesters uprooted telephone poles, burned several buses and other vehicles and also attacked homes of officials from the governing Hindu nationalist party and the regional group Assam Gana Parishad.

Police used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in 10 out of the state’s 33 districts.

While those protesting in Assam are opposed to the bill because of worries it will allow immigrants, no matter their faith, to live in their region, others are opposed to the bill because they see it as discriminatory for not applying to Muslims.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Pakistan, Afghanistan and
Bangladesh because of religious persecution before 2015. It does not, however, extend to Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar.

Home Minister Amit Shah said it was not anti-Muslim because it did not affect the existing path to citizenship available to all communities.
Amnesty India said the legislation legitimized discrimination on the basis of religion and stood in clear violation of the India’s constitution and international human rights law.

“Welcoming asylum seekers is a positive step, but in a secular country like India, slamming the door on persecuted Muslims and other communities merely for their faith reeks of fear-mongering and bigotry,” the rights group said in a statement.

Several opposition lawmakers who debated the bill in Parliament said it would be challenged in court.

“Today marks a dark day in the constitutional history of India,” said Sonia Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party. “The passage of the Citizenship Amendment
Bill marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism.”

Its passage follows a contentious citizenship registry exercise in Assam intended to identify legal residents and weed out those in the country illegally. Shah has pledged to roll it out nationwide, promising to rid India of “infiltrators.”

Nearly 2 million people in Assam were excluded from the list — about half Hindus and the other half Muslims — and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be rendered stateless.

India is constructing a detention center for some of the tens of thousands the courts are expected to ultimately determine came to the country illegally.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill could provide protection and a fast track to naturalization for many of the Hindus left off Assam’s citizenship list.