‘Bulldozer policy’: Modi’s demolition campaign fuels Muslim fears in Kashmir | Cashmere
Suhail Ahmad Shah stood desperately in front of the wreckage that for two decades had been his livelihood. A few hours earlier, he was busy in the workshop when he heard an ominous creak above him and the tin roof began to crumble. He barely manages to escape before a bulldozer flattens the whole place.
“No notice was given to us,” Shah, 38, said. “Officials came suddenly and demolished our workshop. No one listens to us. We paid rent. Isn’t that an atrocity? They snatched away our livelihood.
Its second-hand car parts shop in Srinagar, the summer capital of the beleaguered Indian state of Kashmir, was just one of dozens of structures in the area caught up in a massive demolition campaign in February . Many of them took place without warning, even to those who had occupied the land for decades. The purpose, according to the government, was to “reclaim” state lands that had been illegally encroached upon. Over 50,000 acres of land were seized before the campaign was halted.
But in Kashmir, the reader was condemned as having a more sinister purpose. Many decried it as part of a broader agenda of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to displace and dispossess Kashmiris of their own land and change the demographics of the India’s only Muslim majority. State.
Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, bulldozers have been a popular tool for BJP leaders to target the Muslim minority in their pursuit of a religious nationalist agenda to make India a Hindu country rather than secular. In states such as Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, bulldozers have been used to crush the homes of scores of Muslim activists accused of taking part in protests and of communities suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Panic spread in Kashmir that the BJP’s so-called ‘bulldozer policy’ was deployed against its Muslims. Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Kashmir, called the demolition campaign “a ruse to push people further to economic margins by demolishing their homes and livelihoods”.
Fayaz Ahmad, 52, whose 30-year-old junkyard was demolished without notice or warning, agreed. “All of this is done to suppress Kashmiris,” he said.
Since independence in 1947, the Kashmir region has been the touchstone between India and Pakistan. They have gone to war several times for control of the disputed territory, which is shared between the two countries. On the Indian side was the state of Jammu and Kashmir where, from the early 1990s, a violent separatist insurgency with an allegiance and funded by Pakistan emerged.
Successive governments have struggled to control the violence. But in August 2019, the Modi government, fulfilling a long-standing promise made to its right-wing base, took unilateral action against the state, stripping it of its long-standing autonomy and separating it into two territories under the control of the central government. Thousands of soldiers were transferred to the state, the state government was dissolved, local politicians were jailed and the world’s longest internet shutdown, lasting 18 months, was imposed. .
Since then, the BJP has opened the doors to the state, allowing foreigners to buy property and register to vote in Kashmir for the first time. More than 2 million new voters have been registered, a source of great concern for those who believe the government is trying to shift the state’s demographics away from its current Muslim majority.
An overhaul of the electoral map has led to accusations of gerrymandering after it became clear that the reshaped constituencies would split the Muslim vote in Kashmir, to the likely electoral advantage of the BJP.
The BJP says its actions since 2019 have brought an era of peace to Kashmir. “Investments are coming in and tourists are coming in,” Interior Minister Amit Shah said in a speech. “Kashmir is slowly returning to normal to remain in unity with the country.”
But those in the state tell a very different story – one of systematic oppression under increasingly authoritarian laws and where democratic freedoms, including free speech, political representation and the right to protest, have been crushed. Kashmir is now one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world, with over half a million troops policing just 7 million citizens, with army checkpoints every few kilometers on the roads .
Those who live in the state say censorship, both of ordinary citizens and of the media, is common practice by the government, police and military, and anyone expressing criticism through the activism or on social networks is immediately stopped by the police.
While in private the people of Kashmir will rebel against the Modi government and speak with fear of the future, most are too terrified to speak out publicly. “There is fear. If someone speaks up, even on social media, they are exposing themselves to police intervention. Nobody wants to end up in jail,” said a student who asked to remain anonymous. His friend was recently jailed under draconian security laws simply for writing a Facebook post that angered police.
Journalists have become a particular target. New laws were passed to strictly control their reporting, and the few journalists who still produced critical coverage of the region were harassed and interrogated and their phones and laptops seized.
Journalists have been publicly beaten by police while some have been placed on no-fly lists, preventing them from leaving the country. In local newspapers, editors and owners removed years of coverage that criticized the government due to mounting pressure, and once-independent newspapers were reduced to pamphlets for government press releases. At least three Kashmiri journalists, Asif Sultan, Fahad Shah and Sajad Gul, have been jailed under anti-terrorism laws.
“My brother is in a very difficult situation,” said Javaid Ahmad, brother of Sajad Gul. “He has been placed in a high security cell and is being treated as a dangerous criminal. He is not allowed to call home. They didn’t even allow him a pen and a diary.
Democracy remains elusive. State government was never restored after 2019 and regional elections have not been held for more than five years, leaving Kashmiris without political representation or a way to voice their discontent.
Political leaders who had spent their careers promoting pro-India policies in Kashmir but were among those jailed after 2019 have accused the BJP government of authoritarianism. Omar Abdullah, the region’s former chief minister and India’s former deputy foreign minister, said the government-appointed administrators in Kashmir had “absolute power without any accountability”.
The former chief minister Mufti said she and her party members had been “harassed endlessly”. “I’m quite often under house arrest and not allowed to engage in political activity or reach out to people in distress,” she said. “No one here, be it a political leader, activist or even a journalist, enjoys the freedom of speech to articulate the realities on the ground.”
The BJP has proudly proclaimed that the record number of tourists currently visiting the state’s famous tulip gardens, lakes and snowy slopes is a proof of peace and prosperity. However, the boom in commercial investment in the state – one of the justifications for the measures taken in 2019 – has still not arrived, and private investment in Kashmir is still half its 2018 level. Meanwhile , economic problems, including high unemployment, continue to plague the region.
The militants changed their strategy, carrying out more targeted killings of non-locals and Hindu minorities in Kashmir. It has struck fear among Kashmiri Hindus, commonly known as Pandits, 65,000 of whom fled the valley in the 1990s when they were targeted during a violent pro-Pakistan insurgency. In recent months, another exodus of Pandits has begun.
“We don’t feel safe in Kashmir,” said Rinku Bhat, who was among those who fled their homes after the killings. “Our people are being killed in broad daylight by the gunmen, inside their offices, their homes. We demand that we be posted to safer places, but the government has not helped us so far.
Kavinder Gupta, a senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister of the region, dismissed the allegations. Militancy had been brought under control, he said, while assuring that national elections would soon take place on an unspecified date.
“There is peace in Kashmir. This is evident from the fact that people are not protesting on the roads and throwing rocks, unlike in the past,” Gupta said. “People who championed Pakistan’s agenda and raised its flag were given carte blanche by previous governments. The actions carried out in Kashmir were necessary and the results are before us.