Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir

Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir
Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - NEW DELHI: Pro-India political parties in Kashmir on Friday accused New Delhi of “infringement” of their fundamental rights, days after the introduction of controversial land laws in the region.

The passage of the new regulation, under which non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, was immediately followed by counterterrorism raids on politicians and activists.

On Friday, the local administration prevented Farooq Abdullah, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and senior leader of the region’s oldest party, National Conference (NC), from offering prayers at Srinagar’s historic Hazratbal shrine on the occasion of Mawlid Al-Nabi, the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

“J&K administration has blocked the residence of Party President Dr. Farooq Abdullah and stopped him from offering prayers at Dargah Hazratbal. The NC condemns this infringement of fundamental right to pray, especially on the auspicious occasion of Milad Un Nabi,” the NC said in a tweet.

Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti said that preventing Abdullah from offering prayers at the shrine “exposed” the Indian government’s “deep paranoia and their iron fist approach” toward Kashmir. 

“It’s a gross violation of our rights and is highly condemnable,” she tweeted.

On Thursday, the government sealed the PDP office.

The PDP accuses the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to “silence any voices that speak up” against its “unilateral actions” in Kashmir, PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Arab News.

“Dissent has been criminalized and voices muzzled as part of the project to take over whatever this state has, land and resources,” he said.

The closure of the PDP office followed Wednesday raids by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on several NGOs which it accused of carrying out and raising funds for “secessionist and separatist activities” Kashmir.

Praveena Ahanger of the Srinagar-based Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of the seven NGOs that were raided by NIA, said it is a “clear case of a reprisal and crackdown on the human rights defenders in Kashmir.”

Zafarul Islam Khan, the former head of the Delhi Minority Commission, said that the premises of his NGO Charity Alliance in Delhi were also raided by NIA.

He said that according to the agency’s search order his group was “funding terror organizations in Kashmir.”

It is a “Himalayan lie,” he said. “They are trying to implicate me for my work in the Delhi Minority Commission and for my reports on Delhi religious violence in which the names of the ruling BJP leaders have cropped up.”

International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called the raids an attempt “to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists.”

“India faces serious security challenges, but instead of addressing the problems in a rights-respecting manner, the authorities appear determined to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.

Crackdowns on Kashmiri leaders and rights activists have escalated since August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which gave Kashmiris limited autonomy and protected their domicile and employment rights. People in the region fear the new land laws are aimed at diluting the Muslim-majority character of the region.

“Land in Kashmir is the biggest resource which is now being offered to outsiders as part of demographic projects. The assault is on the Muslim majority character of the region. Everything else is a step to achieve that,” PDP’s Akhatar said.

Political experts say that altering the region’s demography was the main concept behind the revocation of Kashmir’s special status.

“The whole idea of revoking Article 370 was to alter the demography of Kashmir,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Srinagar-based Kashmir University said. “People are angry in Kashmir and it might spill over on the streets any day.”

 But Srinagar-based BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat discounts the possibility.

“I don’t think people are angry. Those who are protesting have lost all credibility. The change in land law will not force people to sell their lands to outsiders,” she said.

Commenting on the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam area of Kashmir on Thursday, Bhat said that “militants don’t want the region to progress.”

“The killings of our party men will not deter us from doing good work in Kashmir.”

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