Legislative changes in Jammu and Kashmir risk undermining minorities’ rights: UN experts

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United Nation human rights experts have shown concern over New Delhi’s decision of ending Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy and enacting new laws.

According to the statement issued by UN human rights Commissioner, “enacting new laws could curtail the previous level of political participation of Muslim and other minorities in the country, as well as potentially discriminate against them in important matters including employment and land ownership”.

The statement further reads, “The state of Jammu and Kashmir was established with specific autonomy guarantees to respect the ethnic, linguistic and religious identities of its people. It was also the only state in India with a Muslim majority.”

“On 5 August 2019, the Government unilaterally and without consultation revoked the constitutional special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and in May 2020, passed the so-called Domicile Rules which removed protections given to those from the territory. Subsequent changes to land laws are further eroding these protections,” it read.

The statement by the UN affiliate body was issued in the backdrop of recently introduced new laws in Kashmir region which allow for sale of land to non-natives.

New Delhi had stripped Kashmir of its limited autonomy in August 2019 and also revoked legal protections that has secured land rights to natives and protected the region’s Muslim majority demography.

“The loss of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule by the Government in New Delhi suggests the people of Jammu and Kashmir no longer have their own government and have lost power to legislate or amend laws in the region to ensure the protection of their rights as minorities,” said Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

“The number of successful applicants for domicile certificates that appear to be from outside Jammu and Kashmir raises concerns that demographic change on a linguistic, religious and ethnic basis is already underway,” said the experts in the statement.

As per the statement, the new legislation overrides previous laws which granted the Kashmiri Muslim, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Sikh, Ladhaki and other established minorities rights to buy property, own land, and access certain state jobs.

“These legislative changes may have the potential to pave the way for people from outside the former state of Jammu and Kashmir to settle in the region, alter the demographics of the region and undermine the minorities’ ability to exercise effectively their human rights,” the experts said.

In the statement, the experts urged the Government of India to ensure that the economic, social and cultural rights of the people of J-K are secured, that their political views are expressed and that they engage in matters affecting them in a meaningful manner.

The experts are in contact with the Government on this matter, the statement noted.

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