SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir
A strike was observed in the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday against new land laws that have triggered fears of demographic changes in the disputed region
The strike was called by pro-freedom leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Shops and businesses were closed and public transport remained off the roads in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Over in Jammu city, the capital of the Hindu-majority Jammu region that is a stronghold of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the opposition Congress party held a demonstration against the new law.
“We demand the rollback of these laws as they are an assault on our rights, culture, and resources. You can’t put our land on sale,” Ravinder Sharma, spokesperson of the Congress party, told Anadolu Agency.
Since scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special autonomous status last August, the Indian government has introduced a slew of changes that have made it easier for outsiders to become residents of the region and eligible for government jobs.
This week, New Delhi declared that Indian nationals who are not residents of Jammu and Kashmir can now purchase non-agricultural land in the disputed region.
Under the new rules, the Indian military can also directly acquire land in the region, while the government can invoke provisions of another law to acquire land for undefined “public” purposes.
Farmland, meanwhile, can only be transferred or sold to agriculturists, or others if authorized by the government, according to India’s Interior Ministry.
The move has been vehemently opposed by Kashmiris, who see it as part of India’s efforts to change the region’s demography.
Protests and expressions of dissent have become rare since last August, as a majority of pro-freedom political leaders, and even pro-India ones who opposed the move to revoke the region’s autonomy, were detained over the past year.
“People need to wake up. The anti-Muslim Indian government has shown that it seriously intends to make us a minority and take away all our rights. I hope today’s strike is only the beginning,” said Sayed Akeel, a resident of Srinagar.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts, and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, New Delhi and Islamabad have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965, and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.
Also, in Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.
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