Amid the world’s undivided attention towards the Ukraine crisis, Kashmir remains under an unprecedented wave of violence and an environment of suppression manifested by the Indian forces. The ongoing human rights violations, domicile rules in the aftermath of abrogation of Kashmir’s special status and the massive crackdown on the innocent Kashmiris, have raised serious questions on the state of affairs in the self-proclaimed world’s largest democracy. The current situation in Kashmir has the ingredients needed for an inadvertent escalation in the region. Emerging dynamics demonstrate the reality of Modi’s anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim policy, which is not merely an electoral strategy but also linked with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP’s extremist vision of Hindu nationalism.
The delimitation is an act of redrawing the boundaries of an assembly to represent changes in population over time. The decision of redrawing these boundaries in Jammu and Kashmir was carried out by the Delimitation Commission which came into being on 6th March 2020, only six months after the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status on 5th August 2019. The redefining of electoral boundaries by the Commission is a tragedy in itself. The Commission recently issued a list increasing the number of seats in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) from 83 to 90. This includes 6 constituencies which will be in the Hindu-majority Jammu region and one in the Muslim-majority Kashmir region. It is tragic as Jammu has 37 seats and Kashmir holds 46 seats. The Commission proposed increasing the number of seats to 43 and 47 respectively. In addition, it also aimed for the removal of distinction between Jammu and Kashmir, considering it as one constituency. The same pattern was reflected in the combining of Anantnag region in Kashmir with Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu to bring about a combined Anantnag-Rajouri as a Parliamentary constituency. The upcoming assembly elections on the basis of the Delimitation Commission’s proposals will thus end up electing a Hindu chief minister for the India’s only Muslim-majority territory. Hence, it will be a trump card for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2024 parliamentary elections.
Voting rights in the region were initially reserved for the permanent residents of Kashmir, which was annulled after the 5th August move. Now, this unconstitutional move has also revived fears among the Kashmiris that the local population would be barred from the local legislatures, thus disempowering them systematically. The delimitation will not only save the BJP from people traditionally opposed to it, but also alienate the ethnic Kashmiri Muslims. It is evident that such moves are meant to institutionalize the Hindu-majority rule and reinforce the demographic changes in the occupied region. The process was hinted at when the Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Domicile Certificate (Procedure) Rules was passed in 2020, allowing the issuance of domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris. The move stands in clear violation of Article 49 of Geneva Convention 4 which states that “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
Modi’s government has once again disregarded the Constitution by reinstating the Delimitation Commission to turn an electoral majority into a minority. It testifies to the ultimate goal of demographic change in Kashmir, the heinous design behind the abrogation of Article 370 and 35(A). The BJP government is focusing on a strategy to settle Hindu migrants in the occupied region where Muslims make up almost 95% of the total population.
Some other strategies for bringing demographic changes include land allotment for Pandits, Hindu shrines and establishing cantonments. It is a fact that such an environment of massive suppression, systematic alienation and human rights violations is not conducive to peace in the region. The world holds a moral obligation to force India to implement the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) Resolutions. Based on UN resolutions, Pakistan also needs to develop a strong counter narrative focusing on legal aspects of the Kashmir issue. Use of proactive diplomacy by Pakistan is also required for an effective strategy by the policymakers to project India’s human rights violations on all international forums.