Srinagar, Kashmir under Indian administration – United Nations human rights experts have expressed concern over India’s decision to end Kashmir’s limited autonomy in 2019 and the subsequent passage of new laws, which they say “ could reduce the previous level of political participation of Muslims and other minorities ”.
Thursday’s statement came a day after nearly two dozen foreign emissaries from African, European and Latin American countries visited the disputed region on a government-led tour to assess the situation.
In August 2019, India’s Hindu nationalist government repealed Article 370 of the constitution, which granted exclusive citizenship rights to residents of the predominantly Muslim region.
Thousands of Kashmiris have been arrested, including pro-Indian politicians, and an internet blackout has been imposed as a result of this unprecedented political decision. High-speed internet was only restored this month, ending one of the longest periods of internet outage in the world.
Since then, New Delhi has changed the land and domicile laws that Kashmiris claim are aimed at bringing about demographic changes in the predominantly Muslim region which has seen decades of armed rebellion against Indian rule.
The new laws allow anyone outside of Jammu and Kashmir to buy land and property there, as well as apply for jobs in a region that suffers from high unemployment and economic stagnation, negating the previous prohibitions of such actions.
The government claims that the measures will bring development to the region.
“The State of Jammu and Kashmir was created with specific guarantees of autonomy to respect the ethnic, linguistic and religious identities of its people. It was also the only Indian state with a Muslim majority, ”the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement released Thursday evening.
“The loss of autonomy and the imposition of direct government by the government of New Delhi suggests that the people of Jammu and Kashmir no longer have their own government and have lost the power to legislate or change laws of the region to ensure the protection of their rights as minorities, ”said Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
But the Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected OHCHR’s statement saying it was “deliberately timed” to coincide with the visit of foreign envoys to Kashmir.
“The press release does not take into account the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of India, and the decision of August 5, 2019 regarding the change of the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the territory of the Indian Union, was taken by the Indian Parliament ”, declared Anurag Srivastava, quoted by the ANI news agency.
“It is deplorable that the SR [special rapporteurs], after sharing their questionnaire on February 10, did not even wait for our response. Instead, they chose to disclose their inaccurate assumptions to the media, ”he said.
A spokesman for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also criticized the UN statement saying that “it is India’s internal affair”.
“If someone interferes in an internal matter, it is not acceptable. Democracy has strengthened in Kashmir, and the best example is the conduct of grassroots local elections. “
UN rights experts also pointed out that “the number of successful applicants for certificates of domicile which appear to be from outside Jammu and Kashmir raises concerns that demographic change on a linguistic, religious and ethnic basis is already in progress “.
“These legislative changes could potentially pave the way for people from outside the former state of Jammu and Kashmir to settle in the region, change the demographics of the region and undermine the ability of minorities to effectively exercise their human rights.” “, he added. said the statement.
The statement added that the experts are in contact with the government on this matter.
Pro-Indian parties in Kashmir have said the government must respond to such serious statements from the UN.
“The Indian government must respond,” Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson for the National Conference (NC), a pro-Indian political party, told Al Jazeera.
Last week, the region’s former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, claimed that his family, including his father Farooq Abdullah, also a former chief minister, had been under house arrest.
“It is serious if these statements come to the international level, the government does not seem out of place here,” he said.
Siddiq Wahid, a political analyst based in the region, expressed no surprise at the statement, however.
“OHCHR has been following India for some time. I think the statement sets aside the lie of the government’s claims about “normalcy” in Kashmir. “