By Umar Manzoor Shah
A demand from Hindus wanting a constitutional amendment to allow outsiders to buy land in Muslim-majority Jammu-Kashmir state has sparked uproar, with Muslims calling it a tactic to tighten India’s grip by changing the state’s demography.
India’s Supreme Court on Aug. 6 agreed to hear the case on Aug. 27, with Muslim groups vowing to intensify protests if the court fails to reject the demand for the removal of a special constitutional provision called Article 35-A.
Prominent Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (national volunteers’ corps), perceived to be the powerhouse behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), petitioned the court seeking the removal of the provision that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
The provision makes it illegal for non-residents of the state to buy land or seek employment or educational scholarships. It was incorporated into the Indian constitution in 1954 so that the state could retain its special socio-religious character.
The demand has angered the state’s Muslim majority, sparking calls for stronger protests from Muslim groups who want Kashmir to be free of Indian control.
Separatist groups issued a statement on Aug. 6 calling on the court to reject the Hindu petition out of hand.
“A close watch will be maintained on the situation, while a collective strategy will be devised in consultation with all segments of society,” the separatists said in a statement.
The statement came after a two-day strike on Aug. 5-6 against the court decision to hear the case in which businesses, schools and government offices were closed.
Separatist leader Mohammad Yasin Malik says Kashmir people will oppose any attempt to change the provision. Kashmiris “will not even shy away from spilling their blood to safeguard their unique identity and character,” he said.
Rashid Ahmad, a political commentator, told ucanews.com that Hindu groups aim to crush general dissent in the state by removing this provision.
“You need to see this in a larger perspective,” Ahmad said. “Kashmir is 68 percent Muslim and if the law is revoked, it will allow Hindus from other states to settle in Kashmir and become permanent residents, turning the Muslim majority into a minority.”
However, a local BJP leader said the change would help the state progress and foster peace.
Sunil Sethi told ucanews.com that the special provision was a major obstacle to the state’s growth as it bars outside investment. Successive federal governments have pumped millions of rupees into the state over the last 70 years “but we don’t proportionate the development,” he said.
The state has 12.5 million people, of which 68.31 percent (8.56 million) are Muslims mainly living in the Kashmir part of the state.
Hindus make up the second largest group with 28.44 percent or 3.5 million and mostly live in the Jammu area.
In the past 30 years, an estimated 100,000 people have died in Jammu and Kashmir since groups began an armed struggle to free themselves from Indian rule and to join Pakistan or remain independent.
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