April 13th 2020
New changes in the law will allow for the Indian government to begin changing the demographic make-up violating international laws.
This is the first in a weekly series of news updates and analysis on major stories and developments affecting Kashmir.
Last week’s major story: The Indian government took significant steps towards a demographic change in Jammu & Kashmir, violating international laws and the government’s own promises, using the global pandemic as cover. These actions come even as the majority of Kashmiris continue to suffer under restricted communications and many political leaders remain in detention, often without access to critical healthcare, while COVID-19 rips through the valley.Read more about how COVID-19 is exacerbating the existing human rights crisis in the region. Americans for Kashmir continues to urge members of Congress to demand the immediate restoration of 4G networks and the release of all political prisoners.
Indian Administration Moves Forwards With Land Transfers
On the heels of last week’s domicile law change by the central government, which could effectively transform the demographic balance in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), this week the Indian Administration in J&K announced initial transfers of land to non-native Kashmiris, an unprecedented development made possible by the Modi government’s unilateral break with decades of protected land rights. Previous attempts at land transfer, such as the 2008 Amarnath land row were met with unrest and mass protest.
It would appear that the government is using the cover of COVID-19 to initiate the transfer of land to new residents. The move also rejects the spirit of previous commitments from the Indian government regarding the independence and demographic makeup of Kashmir. These actions represent a concerted effort to further disenfranchise Kashmiris and a troubling new phase building off the Modi government’s stripping of J&K’s historic autonomous status on August 5, 2019. Taken together, these major actions over the past 7 months indicate a long-term strategy to fundamentally remake Jammu & Kashmir.
COVID-19 Cases Rise Above 200 As Disease Continues To Be Used As Pretense To Extend Lockdown
As of Friday, April 10, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Jammu & Kashmir reached 207. Doctors have guessed that the actual number of infected is probably much higher, but testing is still not widespread. At the same time, both doctors and civil rights activists have complained that the Indian government has used coronavirus as a pretense to extend certain aspects of the repressive lockdown. For example, curfews and restrictions on movement are reportedly even stricter than before the outbreak.
At the same time, aspects of the lockdown that are clearly hampering the COVID-19 response, such as throttled internet and overcrowded prisons, continue, suggesting that the government response is not primarily focused on combating the virus. Middle East Eye quoted the wife of political prisoner Shahid ul Islam saying: “My husband is diabetic. He lives in the most pathetic conditions one can imagine, in the current crisis, he is among the most vulnerable to getting infected. He has lost weight and it has now gotten to a point where his eyesight is getting affected. He has committed no crime but is made to live like a criminal.”
Hospitals Experience Shortfalls Of Equipment And PPE
As the COVID-19 crisis has intensified, shortfalls in equipment and PPE are becoming a larger concern. According to the Deccan Herald, “To overcome the shortage of personnel protection equipment (PPE), doctors at territory care at SKIMS hospital in Srinagar skip lunch breaks and work non-stop for eight hours in a single protective gear.”
In other instances, equipment has had to be returned because of a lack of space or specialized staff. For example, the Government Medical College in Srinagar had to return ventilators to an NGO due to lack of beds and specialized staff to use the equipment.
The government has tightened restrictions on movement, even carrying out dozens of arrests; however, it has not managed the distribution of medical equipment and personnel effectively. This incongruity suggests that the government’s real priorities lie elsewhere.