By Sarwar Kashani and Shah Abbas
Srinagar, India, Aug 5 (efe-epa).- A strict security lockdown on Wednesday forced millions of people in Indian-controlled Kashmir to stay indoors as the government marked the first anniversary of revoking its special autonomous status.
As the region remained on edge during the past year, the government enforced a slew of contested measures that allowed outsiders residency rights and government jobs, causing resentment and anger among locals.
No outsider was allowed to buy land and property in Kashmir for almost a century.
That changed after the Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi government on Aug. 5 last year took away the special rights and powers and divided and downgraded the Himalayan region into two federally-ruled territories.
Residents view the new controversial laws drafted and approved by bureaucrats as the beginning of a demographic change after government annulled nearly a century-old hereditary rights reserved for its permanent residents.
This opened the door for outsiders to buy property, get government jobs, and secure admissions in institutes of higher education in Kashmir.
Muslims comprised over 68 percent and Hindus 28 percent of the 12.5 million population in the erstwhile state, according to the latest census conducted in 2011.
Experts and commoners fear the new measures by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the center would reduce the region to a colony like the West Bank or Tibet.
Zareef Ahmad Zareef is a 75-year-old Kashmiri poet and oral historian, who has been witness to several watershed events that have shaped Kashmir’s present tumultuous history since the Muslim-majority region became part of Hindu-majority India.
Zareef told EFE that the abrogation of the special status followed by laws to allows non-locals to settle in Kashmir could be the worst move for Kashmiris thus far.
“This is akin to opening the doors for plunderers to ruin our beautiful garden of Kashmir,” he said, reciting a Kashmiri couplet.
“Our social and cultural identity is in the danger of extinction. What else do you call a cultural genocide,” the poet said.
Zareef noted that the government had already given a string of mining concessions to companies from outside, “dangerously in violation of environmental rules of the ecologically fragile valley.”
Raashid Maqbool, a research scholar at Kashmir University, minced no words in claiming that the move was part of the BJP’s Hindu-state project to “change the demography of the culturally distinct region” and “the domicile law is a measured step forward” in that direction.
A government official requesting anonymity told EFE that the process of distributing domicile certificates began in May-June.
The government has already issued these certificates to around 400,000 individuals and the process is on at a rapid pace, sources told EFE.
The new domiciles, according to the sources, include in-service and retired Indian soldiers, war refugees from Pakistan, Gurkha soldiers from Nepal, bureaucrats, and marginalized laborers and workers from several Indian states who have lived in Kashmir.
Srinagar-based human rights activist Khurram Pervez said the move would enable government to “disenfranchise the locals who live with anti-India sentiments.”
The administration has also amended two laws to allow Indian armed forces to carry out construction activities in the so-called “strategic areas” without seeking permission.