DELHI: A controversial decision by the Indian government to redefine domicile rules for people living in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory was on Thursday branded as “obnoxious” and “insulting.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday introduced a new set of laws giving domicile rights to non-Kashmiri Indians, a move which analysts claim was aimed at altering the demographic character of India’s only Muslim-majority region.
Critics also slammed the timing of the decision when India was in the midst of tackling the “monumental” coronavirus health crisis.
Under the legislation, which comes into effect from Wednesday, any individual who has resided in Indian-administered Kashmir for 15 years will be eligible for domicile certification. Permanent residency rights will also apply to students who have studied in Kashmir for seven years and appeared in secondary or higher secondary examinations in schools located in the territory.
The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs said that central government employees who had worked in the state for 10 years would be eligible too for the domicile status.
Modi’s announcement comes eight months after New Delhi scrapped Article 370 of the constitution that gave Indian-administered Kashmir special constitutional status and exclusive land and job rights to locals.
New Delhi also divided the state into two federally administered units — the union territories of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir — which gave local legislators very limited political roles and power. The region has been in lockdown since August last year with 3G and 4G internet services still suspended in the valley.
Harsh Dev Singh of the Jammu-based National Panthers Party (NPP) told Arab News: “It is an obnoxious piece of superimposed law. It’s a robbery committed on the youth of people by opening the jobs in Kashmir for outsiders. We will all oppose this move.”
The opposition Congress Party described the new ruling as a “betrayal of the trust of the people.”
Jammu-based Congress leader, Ravinder Sharma, said: “When the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) removed Article 370 it promised that the rights and jobs of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be protected but now by bringing in new domicile laws New Delhi has again insulted the people of the region.”
In a tweet on Wednesday, the region’s former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, said: “Talk about suspect timing. At a time when all our efforts and attention should be focused on the COVID-19 outbreak the government slips in a new domicile law for J&K (Jammu and Kashmir).
“Insult is heaped on injury when we see the law offers none of the protections promised.”
Kashmir’s newly formed Apni political party also condemned the move calling it an “attempt to hoodwink the people.”
Mehbooba Mufti, the detained former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the decision would create a “massive problem” for the region.
“The Indian government tries to manipulate a law that provides guarantees to Kashmiris. It is only further alienating people, by depriving them of their constitutional rights,” she tweeted on Wednesday.
However, the BJP said that the new law was the natural corollary to the removal of Article 370.
“What is wrong with the new domicile law? If the people of Kashmir can go to other parts of India to seek jobs and residence, why should the same rights not be extended to the people of mainstream India?” said Srinagar-based BJP leader, Dr. Hina Bhat.
“Those who welcomed the removal of Article 370 will understand the significance of the new domicile law. Those who say that the demography of the region will change are indulging in propaganda.”
Political analyst and constitutional expert, Subhash Chander Gupta, questioned the current need for change and what purpose it would serve.
“It’s not a wise political move and the domicile law attacks the identity of Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP is not demonstrating any foresight and vision in effecting such kind of change. It will not bring any development. It serves the BJP’s political agenda,” said Gupta.
Another political analyst, and former Indian air vice marshal, Kapil Kak, said: “There is a stealthy approach to what is being attempted in Kashmir. At a time when a monumental health crisis is hitting India, New Delhi has time to indulge in the humiliation of the people of the region,” he told Arab News.
“There is a mala fide intention and the intention is the violation of the Indian constitution. The fear of the people of the valley is justified that these are attempts to alter the demographic balance of Kashmir,” added Kak, who has challenged the abrogation of Article 370 in the Supreme Court.
Prof. Sheikh Showkat of the University of Kashmir, in Srinagar, said: “The domicile law is meant to alter the demographic profile of Kashmir. The political statements of the BJP’s paternal organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) say clearly that the only way to resolve the Kashmir dispute is by changing its demography.
“The series of missteps and the humiliation that New Delhi is heaping on the people of Kashmir are piling up; it might burst in time to come,” he added.