April 17th, 2021 

By Rehan Piracha


LAHORE 

In a letter sent to New Delhi, written by UN human rights experts on February 10 2021,  it has been explicitly stated that the illegal annexation of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, and India’s imposition of new laws in the disputed territory, will only serve to curtail the political participation of Muslims and other minorities, as well as discriminate against them in employment and land ownership.

Now, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva has made the communication public.

The letter details India’s illegal steps to change the demographic character of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir through inflicting human rights abuses, such as internet shutdowns and reported pattern of detention and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.

There is a 60-day requirement before such communications are made public. In the letter, the UN experts have raised serious and multiple questions over the process of awarding domicile certificates, confirming that “it is easier for individuals from outside Jammu and Kashmir to obtain a domicile certificate, than a long-standing resident”.

“The loss of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule by the Government in New Delhi, suggests the people of Jammu and Kashmir no longer have their own government, and have lost the power to legislate or amend laws in 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.

In addition, the newly adopted legislation may cause demographic changes and risks undermining the linguistic and cultural rights and the freedom of religion or belief of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in the autonomous region which was established in 1947 to guarantee their ethnic, linguistic, and religious identities, said the UN experts.

A troublesome domicile certificates to outsiders in Jammu and Kashmir

The new Domicile Rules remove most legal differences between permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir, who are mainly minorities in the rest of India, and persons from any other part of India, who have lived in the region for a limited period.

The process of awarding domicile certificates to individuals from outside Jammu and Kashmir appears to have been excessively simplified, with little or no scope of verification, to the extent that it is easier for individuals outside Jammu and Kashmir to obtain a domicile certificate than a long-standing resident, most of whom are members of the Kashmiri Muslims, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Sikh and Ladhaki minorities.

Non-Kashmiris now only have to provide readily available documentary evidence, (ration card, educational records, or an employer certificate). But this procedure is not available to the minorities who have been long-established in the area. Instead they who have to provide an affidavit and a permanent resident certificate which can be a lengthy procedure.

On September 1, 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir administration announced that 1,718,887 people had applied for the domicile certificates, and 1,243,996 (72%) have been issued these certificates.

Out of the total applicants, 1,473,141 (86%) applied using their Permanent Resident Certificates; 1,095,458 (74%) were issued domicile certificates. The other 194,758 people who did not produce Permanent Resident Certificates in their applications for the domicile certificates are believed to be from outside the region.

Out of this group, 144,846 people (74%) obtained domicile certificates. The percentage of successful applications for certificates from original residents with Permanent Resident Certificates was thus 74%, meaning 26% of those originally residents were denied the new domicile certificates.

“In addition, 12% of successful applicants for domicile certificates appear to be from outside Jammu and Kashmir raising concerns that demographic change on a linguistic, religious and ethnic basis is already underway,” said the experts.

Conversion of agricultural lands

The UN experts also noted that the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act has been amended to make it far easier to convert agricultural land to non-agricultural use by officials, highlighting claims that these changes would disenfranchise Kashmiri minorities, including nomadic Gujjars, and affect their rights to land ownership and use.

“Forest dwellings and huts of the Gujjar minority around localities such as Lidroo in Southern Kashmir, in some cases used for generations, have been allegedly targeted for destruction or eviction orders for illegal occupation under, among others, orders from the Pahalgam Development Authority,” the experts said.

Hike in military presence

The UN human rights stated that it is also feared that the military presence in the area is likely to increase and that this may lead to a possible higher risk of human rights violations.

“A related concern is the central Government’s decision to notify areas of the former state as ‘strategic areas’ for development by the army, suggesting further expansion of the military presence in hinterland and border areas,” the experts said. The Government has also identified over 57,000 acres of land for setting up industrial estates for prospective entrepreneurs. Existing industrial estates in Kashmir are highly militarized. The setting up of new industrial estates creates the impression that there may be an increase of military presence in the area.

Gross HR violations

The UN experts have asked for a response from India on various cases of gross administrative excesses and repressive measures in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. It also sought clarification about what steps India has taken to ensure that residency rights of Kashmiri people are fully respected during the issuance of domicile certificates and that they do not lose land owned by them to foreign settlers.

India’s response to the communication by the UN experts has not been made public, apparently on the demand of the Indian government, which has faced increasing criticism of global human rights advocacy groups on its attempt at demographic engineering of the occupied Jammu & Kashmir.

“We reiterate our concerns expressed in previous communications regarding the ongoing internet shutdowns, standing restriction against 4G access, and restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly and the right to freedom of expression, as well as the reported pattern of detentions and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders,” the experts said.

India’s response to the communication by the UN experts has not been made public, apparently on the demand of the Indian government, which has faced increasing criticism of global human rights advocacy groups on its attempt at demographic engineering of the occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

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