February 25 2023
“The Great Land-Grab” of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir has begun — confirming the worst fears of its local communities: the Indian state is planning to take large tracts of their land, and give it to Indian settlers and businesses. Given the difficulties in obtaining full information about the evictions of people from their homes (the Indian government is increasingly silencing the local media and videos were not allowed during the evictions) we do not yet have the complete figures of how many people and how much property was impacted. However, videos that showed up on social media (and many were later taken down) show Indian bulldozers demolishing property and locals protesting these crimes — all in the dead of winter.
Since the beginning of this year, the occupying state has implemented what it calls and ‘Anti encroachment drive’ to dislodge the civilian populations from agricultural and non-agricultural properties that they have occupied for generations. According to a report by Kashmiri advocacy organization, Legal Forum for Kashmir (LFK), land measuring 178005.213 acres in the Kashmir region — and 25,159.56 acres in Jammu — has been earmarked for land grabs by the Indian state. This move will ultimately lead to the economic disempowerment and geographical displacement of the local population.
The abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 — which revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status — paved the way for the recent surge in land grabbing by the Indian state. Following the abrogation, India has passed laws that violate the human rights of indigenous Kashmiris. One such measure was the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act in 2019, which repealed more than 200 laws that had previously safeguarded the land and residency rights of indigenous Kashmiris. Kashmiris had been granted these lands in previous decades through various forms of legislation and land reform; with Kashmir’s special status removed, the Indian government now says that these laws are not relevant anymore, and thus, people’s legal claims to these lands and properties is void.
Legal Forum for Kashmir describes the situation very succinctly: “The enactment of Jammu & Kashmir Re-organization Act 2019 by the Indian Parliament after the unilateral and Illegal annexation of Indian occupied Jammu Kashmir-IOJK marks a critical turning point in the transition of colonial laws into settler colonial legislations applicable to state.”
The Indian government has been laying the foundations of a massive settler-colonialist project for the past few years. First, it began to change or revoke laws in order to provide a legal mandate for its injustices against the local population. Then, it used its local henchmen to collect information about every inch of land in Kashmir, especially land that aligns with its settlement ambitions. Thousands of pages of charts have been created, with each and every district in Kashmir included, as well as the total area of the land and its current inhabitants. Kashmiris who have already been evicted were not even given a chance to show their documents — they had no means of redress.
This means that the Indian government has the complete freedom to act upon their colonialist project with impunity. These laws enable the government to seize land for various projects, such as the construction of military installations, settler colonies, highways, railways, and industrial corridors, without the consent of the indigenous inhabitants of the land — resulting in the forced displacement of thousands of peoples. The result has been devastating, leaving people without adequate housing or access to basic services. This is not to mention the deprivation of Kashmiris of their livelihood.
Forced evictions are widely considered to be the most severe violation under human rights law. The practice involves, “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/ or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.” Although the causes of forced evictions are diverse, all stages of the forced eviction process involve human rights implications. While the right to adequate housing is perhaps the clearest human right violated, a large number of other rights are also breached by this practice.
In the past, the Indian occupying force has completely ignored the human rights of Kashmiris, to devastating effect. This has not changed. As the LFK report details, the laws of peace and war prohibit the occupying Indian forces from forced eviction of civilian populations. However, these laws have done little to stop the land-grab — despite the fact that India is a signatory to numerous IHL (International Humanitarian Law) and HLP (International housing, land and property) treaties.
The land grab has resulted in numerous violations of human rights laws, including; the right to adequate housing and to the continuous improvement of living conditions; the right to be protected against forced evictions; the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s property; the right to restitution after eviction; International Humanitarian Law; and International Criminal Law.
Although the Indian government has stated that the lands it is confiscating are encroachments, belong to the state, and are a result of corruption, it is crucial not to delink the anti-encroachment drive from India’s broader settler-colonial ambitions in Kashmir. India is well on its way to changing the demographics of the region from a Muslim-majority to a Hindu majority one — to finally silence all calls for self-determination. For too long have the injustices in Kashmir been ignored. Now, more than ever, Kashmiris need to be heard, before it is too late.
The international civilian, diplomatic and human rights community must be the voice of Kashmiris in a world where our own is being stifled by Indian oppression.
Stand With Kashmir (SWK) is a Kashmiri-driven independent, transnational, grassroots movement committed to standing in solidarity with the people of indian-occupied Kashmir in ending the indian occupation of their homeland and supporting the right to self-determination of the pre-partition state of Jammu and Kashmir. We want to hear from you. If you have general inquiries, suggestions, or concerns, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.