Is India planning a ‘settler-colonial’ project for disputed Kashmir?

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Shafaqna Pakistan: India just revoked a law that allowed Kashmir to make its own laws and keep non-Kashmiris from buying property in India-administered Kashmir. Is New Delhi emulating Israel’s policy towards Palestine?

India on Monday unilaterally scrapped a major law that gave Kashmir semi-autonomous status. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allowed India-administered Kashmir and its neighbouring province Jammu to make their own laws and prevented non-Kashmiris from settling in and owning land in the disputed region.

Kashmiris believe that the removal of Article 370 will pave the way for Indian settlers to come and buy property in Kashmir, a mountainous region known for its natural beauty.

The decision threatens the demographics of the region which is claimed by both India and Pakistan. The UN passed a resolution of the right to self determination in 1949, arguing that Kashmiri people should be allowed to choose whether they would embrace India’s or Pakistan’s sovereignty. The referendum was never held, however. Frustrated by the dithering, many Kashmiri youths started an armed insurgency against India in 1989, which provoked a violent response from the Indian state, leading to the killings of tens of thousands of people.

Since then, some Kashmiris have fought to join Pakistan while others have sought complete independence, free from both Pakistan and India.

Article 370: the legal link

As Hafsa Kanjwal writing for the Washington Post notes, the cancellation of Article 370 is considered an illegal move by many scholars. “Article 370 is the only legal link between India and the disputed state,” she points out. “For it to be revoked, it has to be approved concurrently by the Jammu and Kashmir constituent assembly, which was dissolved in 1956.”

By scrapping Article 370, Indians can now settle in Indian-administered Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region. The issue brings to mind many parallels with the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.

According to a 2015 Al Jazeera article, India and Israel enjoy a strong alliance. India is one of Israel’s biggest arms exports clients, spending around $10 billion in a decade. The article also mentions that Israeli armed forces have been training Indian police in “anti-terror” operations, a euphemism for Israel’s oppressive treatment towards Palestinians.

The Times of Gaza Twitter account has put its support behind India-administered Kashmir, listing the tightened controls and oppressive practices over the region and calling for an end to the occupation.

An article in The Conversation from February this year explains why Israel, a country with great relations with India, is the model for Hindu nationalism rather than Pakistan. Pointing out that Pakistan is a military state while India is the world’s self-described “biggest democracy”, the article notes that there is a country that India finds more suitable as a role model: Israel.

“Israel’s right wing majority narrowly won a vote to further tighten Israel’s identity,” the article says. “To the ‘nation-state of the Jewish people, which respects the rights of all its citizens.’” The author reads into this revised statement an “ascendancy of hardliners and extremists” in Israeli politics.

The cancellation of Article 370 and the subsequent buying of Kashmiri property by people from different Indian cities could transition into a major population imbalance, a mirror image of illegal settlements of Israel in occupied Palestinian lands. Many Indians opposing the government’s decision fear that the Muslim-majority Kashmir would, in this scenario, eventually lose its demographic qualities and become a Hindu majority state. Kanjwal says the process could go as far as to be called “ethnic cleansing”.