Political parties, rights groups slam new crackdown in disputed Kashmir

Indian police detain an activist of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) protesting against India's new land laws that allows any Indian citizen to buy land in the disputed region in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir on Oct. 29, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Political parties, rights groups slam new crackdown in disputed Kashmir

  • New regulation, which allows non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, is seen as an attempt to dilute the Muslim-majority character of the region
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) on called raids on rights groups an attempt to 'to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability'

NEW DELHI: Pro-India political parties in Kashmir on Friday accused New Delhi of “infringement” of their fundamental rights, days after the introduction of controversial land laws in the region.
The passage of the new regulation, under which non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, was immediately followed by counterterrorism raids on politicians and activists.
On Friday, the local administration prevented Farooq Abdullah, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and senior leader of the region’s oldest party, National Conference (NC), from offering prayers at Srinagar's historic Hazratbal shrine on the occasion of Mawlid Al-Nabi, the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
"J&K administration has blocked the residence of Party President Dr Farooq Abdullah and stopped him from offering prayers at Dargah Hazratbal. The NC condemns this infringement of fundamental right to pray, especially on the auspicious occasion of Milad Un Nabi SAW," the NC said in a tweet.
Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti said that preventing Abdullah from offering prayers at the shrine "exposed" the Indian government's "deep paranoia and their iron fist approach" toward Kashmir.
"It's a gross violation of our rights and is highly condemnable," she tweeted.
On Thursday, the government sealed the PDP office and stopped the party's workers from protesting against the new land laws were notified on Tuesday.
The PDP accuses the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to "silence any voices that speak up" against its "unilateral actions" in Kashmir, PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Arab News.
"Dissent has been criminalized and voices muzzled as part of the project to take over whatever this state has, land and resources," he said.
The closure of the PDP office followed Wednesday raids by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on several NGOs which it accused of carrying out and raising funds for "secessionist and separatist activities" Kashmir.
The groups see the move as a crackdown.
Praveena Ahanger of the Srinagar-based Association of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of the seven NGOs that were raided by NIA, said it is a "clear case of reprisal and crackdown on the human rights defenders in Kashmir."
Zafarul Islam Khan, former head of the Delhi Minority Commission whose NGO Charity Alliance's premises in Delhi were also raided by NIA, told Arab News that according to the agency's search order, his group was "funding terror organizations in Kashmir."
It is a "Himalayan lie,” he said. "They are trying to implicate me for my work in the Delhi Minority Commission and for my reports on Delhi religious violence in which the names of the ruling BJP leaders have cropped up."
International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called the raids an attempt “to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists.”
"India faces serious security challenges, but instead of addressing the problems in a rights-respecting manner, the authorities appear determined to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.
Crackdowns on Kashmiri leaders and rights activists have escalated since August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which gave Kashmiris limited autonomy and protected their domicile and employment rights. People in the region fear the new land laws are aimed at diluting the Muslim-majority character of the region.
"Land in Kashmir is the biggest resource which is now being offered to outsiders as part of demographic projects. Actual assault is on the Muslim majority character of the region. Everything else is a step to achieve that," PDP's Akhatar said.
Political experts say that altering the region's demography was the main concept behind the revocation of Kashmir's special status.
"The whole idea of revoking Article 370 was to alter the demography of Kashmir otherwise the land in Kashmir is limited, 93 percent of the area in Kashmir is mountain,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Srinagar-based Kashmir University told Arab News.
"People are angry in Kashmir and it might spill over the street any day."
But Srinagar-based BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat discounts the possibility.
"I don’t think people are angry. Those who are protesting have lost all credibility. The change in land law will not force people to sell their lands to outsiders," she told Arab News.
Commenting on the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam area of Kashmir on Thursday, Bhat said that "militants don’t want the region to progress."
"The killings of our party men will not deter us from doing good work in Kashmir."

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 29 November 2020

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.