By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On November 3, 2022, two non-local labourers working in the Sabir Abdullah Public School, a private institution, were shot at and injured by terrorists on the school premises in the Wanihama area of Anantnag District. The injured were identified as Vikram from Bihar and Bahadur from Nepal.
On October 17, 2022, two migrant labourers were killed after terrorists hurled a grenade at their rented accommodation in the Hermain area of Shopian District. The victims were identified as Manish Kumar and Ram Sagar, both residents of Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh. The main attacker, Imran Bashir Ganie, a resident of Harmain, was arrested the same night. On his disclosures, his accomplice was arrested next morning. Both are “hybrid” terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
On September 24, two non-local labourers were shot at and injured at Kharpora Ratnipora in Pulwama District. The injured labourers were identified as Shamshad and Faizan Qasri, residents of the Bettiah District of Bihar.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), terrorists have targeted non-local labourers on at least 15 occasions in the current year, resulting in six fatalities and 33 persons injured, thus far (data till November 6). During the corresponding period of 2021, there were six such attacks, which resulted in six deaths and two persons injured. Though no such attack was reported in 2020, there were two attacks in 2019 after the ‘abrogation’ of Article 370, on August 5, which resulted in five deaths and one person injured. In one attack, five migrant workers from the Murshidabad District of West Bengal were shot dead by terrorists in Kulgam District on October 29, while one non-local worker was injured in the second attack.
Thus, since August 5, 2019, terrorists have targeted non-local labourers (from outside Jammu and Kashmir, J&K) on at least 23 occasions killing 17 non-local workers and injuring another 36.
Moreover, the terrorists also targeted people who have migrated to J&K a long time back and had been staying there, in many cases, for decades. In one such attack on December 30, 2020, terrorists shot dead a 65-year-old jeweller, Satpal Nischal, in the Sarai Bala area of Srinagar. Though Nischal was not a ‘State Subject’, he had been living in J&K for over 50 years, and had recently received his Domicile Certificate. Claiming the incident, The Resistance Front, declared, “Domicile certificate is unacceptable and they shall be treated as occupiers.”
In another such attack, a civilian, Akash Mehraj, was injured after terrorists opened fire on him in the Durganag area of Srinagar District on February 17, 2021. The Muslim Janbaz Force claimed the attack and warned, “We will target those non-J&K citizens who get a Domicile Certificate and those who will sell land to them and the property brokers involved in such deals.”
Significantly, on March 31, 2020, the Centre changed the State Subject law and defined a new domicile rule for J&K, according to which those who had lived in the Union Territory (UT) for 15 years or more would be eligible to receive a domicile certificate. Later, in a 54-page booklet released on the second anniversary of the ‘abrogation’ of Article 370, the Government claimed that it had issued 441,000 domicile certificates. No further update in this regard is available.
Further, on October 27, 2020, the Centre notified the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Third Order, enabling a host of new changes, including no requirement of domicile or permanent resident certificate to purchase non-agricultural land in the UT. Previously, article 35-A of J&K Constitution, watered down on August 5, 2019, along with Article 370, placed prohibitions on the sale of land to those who were not state subjects. On March 29, 2022, the Government informed the Parliament that “as per the information provided by the government of Jammu and Kashmir, 34 people from outside the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir have bought properties in the UT of J&K” since the notification.
The current spurt in attacks on outsiders is at least partially connected to these changes, but can also be linked to the purportedly upcoming Assembly Elections in the UT.
The Centre has made several reiterations in the recent past that Assembly Elections in J&K would be held soon after the publication of revised electoral rolls. Simultaneously, widespread allegations started emerging that the Centre was trying to manipulate the rolls and bring in ‘new’ non-local voters. Giving credence to such allegations, on August 17, 2022, Hirdesh Kumar, Chief Electoral Officer, J&K and Ladakh, stated,
After the abrogation of Article 370, many people who weren’t voters in the Assembly can now be named on the voter’s list to cast their vote… and no person needs to be a permanent resident of the state/UT. As per the provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act, a person living ordinarily in the UT can avail of the opportunity to get enlisted as a voter in J&K. He has to get enlisted as a voter and the ERO [Electoral Registration Officer] will take a final call on adding him/her in the voter list.
Further, on October 11, 2022, the Jammu administration issued an order authorising all tehsildars (revenue officials) to issue a certificate of residence to people residing in the district for more than one year. The purpose of the certificate of residence was to ensure that no eligible voter is left for registration in the ongoing special summary revision of electoral rolls. However, the order was withdrawn a day later.
These developments were enough for the Establishment in Pakistan, which has for long been alleging that New Delhi was attempting to change the demography of J&K, to attempt to orchestrate unrest in the UT. However, given the fact that Pakistan-backed terrorist groups and individuals/parties sympathetic to the Inter-Services Intelligence had been weakened considerably over time due to successful operations by the Security Forces, such orchestrated unrest remained unlikely. Realizing this, Islamabad-backed terrorist groups have resorted to the tactic of increased targeting of non-locals and persons who have long been residents in the UT, to instil fear and engineer an exodus before the upcoming elections.
Having created the situation without sufficient preparation or foresight, it is imperative that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union Government take adequate steps to ensure the safety and security of non-locals and persons long domiciled in the UT. Continuing failure to do so will hamper the prospect of restoration of sustainable normalcy in the UT, a precondition for the restoration of statehood and of any political reconciliation in foreseeable future. Terrorist violence has substantially been contained at a cost of great sacrifices by the Security Forces. Political sagacity is now needed to establish an enduring peace in this long-troubled region.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management