Right-wing Hindus contest Kashmir's 'special status'

Separatists threaten large scale protests over abrogating land ownership law in Muslim majority state
Right-wing Hindus contest Kashmir's 'special status'

Streets are almost deserted and shops remain closed in Jammu and Kashmir state  Aug. 12, after Muslim groups called for a complete shut down to protest demands by Hindus to abrogate the state's special land ownership law. (Photo by Umer Asif) 


Religion-based tension refuses to die down in India’s only Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir as Hindu groups want laws amended to help them buy land in the area.

Tension began after a New Delhi based NGO backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (national volunteers' corps), an umbrella group for Hindu hardliners that want India to be a Hindu nation, and the political wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) filed a petition in India's Supreme Court, seeking the removal of a constitutional provision that allows only permanent residents to buy and own property in that state.

A three-judge bench is scheduled to hear the issue by the end of August. 

Many local Muslim organizations say this is a move by the pro-Hindu BJP led federal government to change the Muslim majority status of the state. 

Jammu and Kashmir state, which borders Pakistan, has 12.5 million people and 68.31 percent or 8.56 million, are Muslim. Hindus make up the second largest group with 28.44 percent or 3.5 million of its population.

In the past 30 years, an estimated 100,000 people have died in Jammu and Kashmir, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after groups began an armed struggle for freedom from Indian rule and to join Pakistan or remain independent.

Kashmir’s chief religious cleric and separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said abrogating the provision of the constitution — Article 35A — was a tactic to reduce Muslims to a minority and "change the basic character of the state in order to undermine and deeply affect its disputed nature."

Farooq threatened large scale protests, "if the government fails to protect the special status of the state. People will not tolerate this move. The consequences of it will again be the sole responsibility of the government," he said.

The armed struggle in the region has its roots in the partition of British India in 1947, creating Muslim-majority Pakistan and mostly Hindu India, based on the dominant religion of the people in each of the areas.

Pakistan claims Kashmir, with its majority Muslims, should have been part of it, but Kashmir then was ruled by a Hindu king who chose to join India. An armed conflict for the region began within a year of partition.

India and Pakistan have fought at least three major wars over Kashmir. Both countries now control part of the region that continues to be a hotbed of violence despite a heavy army presence.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a separatist leader who spearheaded 2016 anti-India protests in the region termed the new attempt to remove the constitutional provision as "nefarious."   

"There are clear indications that India wants to create a Palestine-like situation in Kashmir. It is a well thought out ploy to tamper with the special status of the Muslim majority character of Jammu and Kashmir," he told ucanews.com. 

People in the state on Aug. 12 held a strike to protest against attempts at abrogating the state’s special status. 

However, the BJP that runs the federal government and is an ally in the state government, has been advocating for the removal of this special constitutional provision.

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BJP spokesperson Virender Gupta said the special status challenges the integrity of the country and has created "a separatist psyche acting as a breeding ground" for separatists.

According to Rashid Nazir, a research scholar at University of Kashmir, the special status was part of the Hindu ruler Maharaja Hari Singh's condition for joining India at the time of partition.

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