Every year on 15 May, Palestinians remember 750,000 of their people who were thrown out of their homeland within two years (1947 – 49). The day is remembered as Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ by millions of stateless Palestinians living across the world.
When the administration in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) issued new rules regarding domicile certificates on 18 May 2020, Kashmiri residents fearing demographic change began to draw comparisons with Palestine. The new domicile rule provides that any tehsildar (revenue official) who fails to issue a domicile certificate within the stipulated time of 15 days can have INR 50,000 deducted from their salary. Coercive dictates – wherein a government official is threatened with a fine for non-issuance of a document – are unheard of in India.
Legislation like the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) are antithetical to the principles of natural justice and equality and characteristic of Indian rule in the region.
India also scrapped a 37-year-old law that permitted the return of J & K residents who fled to Pakistan during 1947 to 1954, through the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act (2019). As a result, Jammu residents who fled to Pakistan in 1947 no longer have a right to return to their homeland. However, Indians who have lived in the region for 15 years or studied there for seven years and appeared in examinations for grade 10 or 12 from an educational institution located in the union territory of J & K can now apply for state domicile and settle in the region with ease. Twenty-five thousand domicile certificates have already been issued up to June 2020. Laws and policies such as these provide the necessary support structure to subjugate the population of J & K.
The occupation of Kashmir
India has always treated J & K as a colony. Legislation like the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) are antithetical to the principles of natural justice and equality and characteristic of Indian rule in the region. Human-rights organisations have called AFSPA and PSA “lawless laws.”
The AFSPA grants effective immunity from prosecution to Indian armed forces in Kashmir for a wide array of allegations, including civilian killings, rape, custodial deaths, illegal detentions, disappearances and torture, because it requires the state government to get a sanction from the central government before a member of the Indian armed forces is prosecuted. The J & K government has sought such sanction to prosecute defense personnel in 50 cases that occurred between 2001 and 2016. As of 2018, requests were still pending in three cases, while sanction to prosecute was denied by the Indian government in the remaining 47 cases.
The de facto immunity granted by the AFSPA also extends to cases involving sexual harassment by the army. Set up after the 2012 Nirbhaya rape in Delhi, the Justice J S Verma Committee in 2013 recommended that AFSPA be reviewed, observing that “systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of Internal Security duties, is being legitimised by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force in large parts of our country.” The Indian government, however, failed to implement these recommendations.
The notification of new domicile rules is a watershed moment for the disputed territory because it marks the region’s transition from Wolfe’s first model to his second model of colonialism.
The PSA, which has been used frequently against pro-freedom activists in Kashmir, allows for the detention of a person for up to two years without a trial. It is similar to the colonial-era Rowlatt Act (1919), which empowered the British government to arrest any person without a trial and eventually led to the infamous Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in which British troops fired upon and killed hundreds of Indian protesters. The PSA allows the government to easily circumvent the judiciary and set new restrictions on the Kashmiri people. Those who exercise their right to protest, for example, are threatened with arbitrary detention.
The PSA also empowers the government to repeatedly detain a person. For example, Masarat Alam, one of the most prominent pro-freedom leaders of Kashmir, has been in jail since April 2015. In the last 25 years, he has been booked under the act 37 times and spent much of his time in detention. Although the J & K High Court has repeatedly quashed his detention, the police have ordered new detention under PSA and jailed him each time he has been released. Thousands of other pro-freedom activists in J & K have been arrested and held under the PSA. The advisory board assigned to review a detention order under the PSA is also constituted by the government, violating one of the basic principles of natural justice: the right to a fair hearing.
Models of colonialism in Kashmir
Australian historian Patrick Wolfe offers us two models of colonialism. The first one suggests that colonisers invade a country and remain there as a small minority. This minority then maintains control over the majority indigenous population but is dependent on them for labour. A second model, that of settler colonialism, is “premised on the elimination of native societies. The colonizers come to stay – invasion is a structure not an event.”
The notification of new domicile rules is a watershed moment for the disputed territory because it marks the region’s transition from Wolfe’s first model to his second model of colonialism. Even before the new domicile rules were announced in May 2020, close to a million active Indian armed force members were stationed in Jammu and Kashmir. However, since the new rules, the government has enthusiastically granted domicile certificates to others too – including both civilians and retired armed forces personnel. From 18 May to 26 June 2020, domicile certificates were issued to more than 25,000 out of the 33,157 people who had applied for the residency document. Since they operate under the threat of heavy fines by the Indian government, revenue officials who issue these certificates cannot be expected to adequately verify an applicant’s credentials or to deny an applicant’s certificate. Although the severity of the fine might appear pointless, it makes sense if understood as part of the Indian state’s plan to settle a large number of outsiders in the region.
The abrogation of Kashmir’s special status is further evidence that Kashmir has moved from Wolfe’s first to second model of colonialism. On 5 August 2019, the Indian government revoked the limited autonomy provided to Kashmir through Article 370 of the Constitution. Similar to other colonial powers in the past, India has justified these changes by arguing that J & K is ‘backward’ and needs development. The Indian government has promised to deliver a ‘Naya Kashmir’ or ‘New Kashmir’ which is developed and free from ‘terrorism’. The ‘development’ narrative peddled by India is akin to the British colonial myth of modernisation and it’s ‘civilizing mission.’ Joseph Stalin also advanced the argument that he was exporting ‘scientific progress’ to the ‘backward’ Baltic regions by settling ethnic Russians there – a rhetoric which helped to curb Baltic nationalism and facilitate changes in the ethnic composition of Baltic countries. This narrative building is important, because without ideological support such moves can backfire in the coloniser’s own country. When a government expends resources and the lives of its own people to establish an enormous security apparatus in the colonised region, it cannot afford too much criticism.
The recent changes to the constitutional status of the state prevent legal hindrance in establishing hegemonic control over Kashmir. They are part of the sudden transition from Wolfe’s first model of colonisation to the second model (essentially the wholesale extermination of the local populations). Such change is logical if the current dispensation views settler colonialism as a final solution to the dispute.
What about the Kashmiri Pandits?
The anti-Kashmir and Islamophobic narratives propagated by many Kashmiri Pandit (KP) organisations like All India Kashmiri Samaj, Jammu & Kashmir Vichar Manch, Roots in Kashmir and Panun Kashmir are well known. Several KP leaders have openly called for brutality on Kashmiri Muslims even though some pro-freedom leaders and militants have called for their return. That is not to say that all the displaced Kashmiri Pandits see Muslims as their enemies, although these organisations have been mouthpieces of the Indian rightwing. The Kashmiri people’s political aspirations are labeled radical, and the issue of Kashmiri Pandits is pitted against the larger question of right to self-determination. In doing so, the Kashmiri dispute is reduced to a communal issue, making it easier for India to galvanise the post-9/11 anti-terrorism rhetoric in their favor. This template has been repeated and recycled so much that the phrase “What about the Kashmiri Pandits?” is almost always used for the propagation of hate against Kashmiri Muslims.
The ‘development’ narrative peddled by India is akin to the British colonial myth of modernisation and it’s ‘civilizing mission.’
Many KP collectives and organisations have expressed jubilation at the new domicile rules claiming that it addresses the grievances of Kashmiri Pandits. This overwhelming support from KP organisations is strange because the new domicile rules do not grant the Kashmiri Pandits any new privileges. However, their promotion of the Indian development narrative can be explained by the promise of plum positions in the new power structure. With the ongoing delimitation process in J & K, the legislative assembly of the newly formed union territory of J & K will be drastically different to its previous avatar. The central government will have greater influence on the disempowered government of the union territory. With this unprecedented say in the matters of the erstwhile state, the Indian government will be able to appoint their own people at various levels of the system. In the coming days, these Pandit organisations will provide critical support to India’s failing international optics.
The economics of settler colonialism
Apart from the political subjugation of Kashmir, another goal is clear – its economic exploitation. Marxian theorists have tried to explain the process of colonialism as a consequence of capitalism. They argued that industrialisation created an increased demand for markets as well as raw materials, which compelled industrialised countries to colonise other countries. Present-day India is a capitalist economy, and contrary to what its constitution and the government might claim, it is not a welfare state. As an extension of its capitalist state, India has economically exploited Jammu and Kashmir through state-owned corporations.
The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), for example, exports electricity from Kashmir at exorbitant rates. Forty percent of the total hydel power generated by the corporation comes from Jammu and Kashmir. In return, only 12 percent of the royalty (between 2001 and 2015, the NHPC earned INR 194 billion from the sale of electricity generated in the region) is returned to the state government. Ironically, the state government often has to plead before the corporation for continued power supply when it cannot pay its bills. In 2015, members of the now abrogated legislative council from Chenab Valley accused the NHPC of exploiting J & K’s water resources. They claimed that Himachal Pradesh gets 50 percent royalty from the hydel power projects while Jammu and Kashmir only receives 12 percent. Although Jammu and Kashmir is a major contributor to NHPC’s power production, Srinagar and various other parts of the state suffer long hours of load shedding. This is a textbook example of economic exploitation wherein locals are deprived of their own resources.
Apart from the political subjugation of Kashmir, another goal is clear – its economic exploitation.
Similar exploitation occurs with regards to J&K’s forest resources. Recently, the Indian government converted the Jammu and Kashmir State Forest Corporation (JKSFC) into a government-owned corporation. Earlier, the government also approved the clearance of 125 projects under which around 271 hectares of forest land would be diverted. All these projects were approved during the government-imposed ‘security’ lockdown. The marginalised scheduled-tribe population that lives in these areas was not consulted before these decisions were made. The population depends on forest resources for survival and now faces grave exploitation in the name of development.
The recent grant of leases to non-state companies for mining in Kashmir is a slightly different form of exploitation – here the extraction disadvantages local firms which are unable to compete with big players from India. The opening of mineral blocks to Indian companies could have been beneficial if the contracts contained protective clauses for locals. For example, the companies could have been asked to employ a certain percentage of local workers in their mining operations. These companies could have collaborated with local enterprises and contractors to create jobs and share technical know-how. The current regime has not allowed for such collaboration or knowledge-sharing. Instead, the livelihoods of local communities who previously depended on these resources is in jeopardy.
This is similar to how the British dominated the local small-scale industries in India and reduced their largest colony to a provider and consumer, but not manufacturer, of raw materials. The rapid industrialisation in Britain meant that the demand for raw materials was always very high. This demand was satisfied by India and various other colonies of the British empire. The heavy militarisation in Kashmir, coupled with internet blockades, has ensured that Indian companies will not set up any new industries or invest in the region. J & K is going through the same stages of extractive colonialism that India once suffered under colonial rule – with raw materials being extracted from the region and no profits being returned to its local population.
Following the abrogation of Article 370, bidding for mineral blocks was opened up to bidders outside J & K. Previously, no outside company was able to operate in J & K without government consent. Now, companies across India which have earned the necessary mining rights can mine natural resources like bauxite, coal, marble and limestone in J & K. Since the bidding process is online and J & K only has low-speed 2G internet, local bidders face greater difficulties securing contracts. Many areas have zero internet connectivity, and locals must travel outside the state to access the internet. While increased competition might give the government financial advantages, the discriminatory bidding process can exclude locals. Such policies also shrink the already limited employment options in the region. The digital divide imposed by the Indian state in J & K has forced a number of businesses and startups to close down.
In the absence of any relief from the Supreme Court of India, J & K completed a year without high-speed internet on 4 August 2020. The government still refuses to provide a satisfactory explanation for why they imposed the world’s longest internet blockade on the region. Policies implemented by the Indian state after the abrogation of limited autonomy in August 2019 have been detrimental towards local businesses. Locals see such policies as part of a deliberate strategy by the government to weaken the region’s economy and leverage the economic downfall against the people.
The impacts of settler colonialism
Now that occupation in Kashmir has progressed to settler colonialism, the increased militarisation and loss of jobs to outsiders will pose a new set of challenges. Earlier, we had uniformed men killing and maiming the Kashmiris, but now things might change. The illegal settlements by Israel in occupied Palestinian territory has often seen the settlers attacking and killing local Arabs. Locals must be made aware of such dangers and of how settler colonialism can affect the larger political landscape. Further, demographic changes will fundamentally change the nature of the freedom movement in Kashmir. It will be easier for the government to pit settlers against locals and claim that radical terrorists are killing the civilians. In other words, the enemy is no longer just at the gates, they are within.
As an extension of its capitalist state, India has economically exploited Jammu and Kashmir through state-owned corporations.
Recently, the J & K government changed laws to allow itself to designate certain areas as ‘strategic areas’ outside the army cantonments. This will enable the armed forces to carry out construction and build facilities in such areas. These ‘strategic areas’ can be designated in civilian spaces as well, allowing for direct control over the local population and increased risk of human-rights violations. Many sections of the Indian rightwing have also been calling for the construction of separate housing colonies for Kashmiri Pandits. Instead of settling them among the general population, they want to create separate walled and guarded settlements. This segregation is similar to that which Israel imposed in the occupied West Bank to advance its own project of settler colonialism.
One of the biggest challenges for Kashmir’s intellectual community today is in raising public awareness, including on the history of settler colonialism. In the absence of effective leadership, writers, academics and students must provide a free flow of information to the outside world. It was academics like Palestinian American Edward Said, after all, who provided the intellectual foundation upon which prominent thinkers like Stephen Hawking and Noam Chomsky could then fiercely critique the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Global movements like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) – which emerged out of crossborder discourse – helped to counter occupation. But before Kashmiris raise awareness globally, they must recognise the change in the status quo and what it entails. The newspeak of Kashmiriyat and Kashmiri hospitality is no longer mere propaganda for tourists. Every non-Kashmiri is a potential settler – a cog in the occupational machinery – who must be recognised as such. And as always, let us be clear about this: it is our Nakba, and we must not wait until we are left only with some keys and old documents.
Maknoon Wani is a journalist and academic mentor and an incoming graduate student at Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. Maknoon has extensively covered the Kashmir conflict, internet shutdowns, and anti-minority hate speech in India. His interest also lies in technology policy and internet governance.