Kashmir’s forced demographic shift and the consequences of an unfulfilled plebiscite

Move to grant more certificates to outsiders in Kashmir is of understandable concern in growing tensions between Pakistan and India

Mary Hunter
An Indian policeman stands guard behind concertina wire laid across a road leading to the Indian army headquarters in Srinagar December 17, 2018. Photo: Reuters

Concern continues to mount in Indian-occupied Kashmir as New Delhi moves to grant more domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris who wish to reside or apply for government work in the territory.

Critics suggest that the move will cause a demographic shift in Kashmir, which currently has a Muslim majority accounting for roughly 68% of the population, according to a 2011 census.

Kashmir has been a disputed territory since the partition of India in 1947. The Maharajah of Kashmir, Hari Singh, initially favoured establishing an independent state, but was pressured to accede to India in response to the presence of liberation fighters in the region and against the wishes of Kashmir’s majority Muslim population.

The United Nations (UN) stepped in to resolve the dispute and so a UN resolution in 1948 was initiated to establish the conditions for a plebiscite (a vote involving the entire electorate) over whether Kashmir should be independent or accede to one of the two nations. This vote has never taken place

If the analysis by critics is correct and the granting of domicile certificates is indeed intended to alter Kashmir’s demographics, then India, having illegally revoked the special status of Kashmir and assuming governmental control, can now call a plebiscite and thus achieve their favoured outcome to this ongoing 73-year dispute. The move to grant more certificates to outsiders in Kashmir is thus of understandable concern in growing tensions between Pakistan and India, an already volatile relationship.

Comparisons have been drawn between the developing situation in Kashmir to that in Palestine, as the potential demographic shift in Kashmir may be compared to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The demographics of both Kashmir and Palestine are not defined by the legal residents of the regions. The majority of both Kashmiris and Palestinians are also Muslim, who are being oppressed by another power whose religious beliefs are extreme: the Kashmiris by the Hindu nationalists of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and the Palestinians by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Zionist Likud Party.

Any belief in the superiority of one group over another based on religion is inherently wrong and contrary to the values espoused by the US and UK, yet they have failed to apply adequate pressure to encourage an international solution.

Unfortunately, it is no surprise that the fears of Kashmiri and Palestinian Muslims are ignored by the US and UK when American President Trump’s 2015 presidential campaign depended upon his despicable desire for a ban on all Muslims entering the country and our Prime Minister here in the UK belittled Burqa-clad women as “letterboxes.”

The silence in western media in response to the granting of domicile certificates in Kashmir — even as the Kashmiris live in constant fear of the entire make-up of their society being irreversibly altered — is symptomatic of the prevailing Islamophobic narrative that Muslims are always the perpetrators and can never be the victims.

These Islamophobic attitudes reflect the reprehensible colonial and orientalist assumptions that continue to influence western perspectives on Islamic countries and Muslims worldwide.

In his seminal work, Orientalism, Edward Said stated: “It seems a common human failing to prefer the schematic authority of a text to the disorientations of direct encounters with the human.”

Unfortunately, this is still true to this day.

Those European Orientalists, like Evelyn Baring, defined Middle Eastern and Asian countries as inherently inferior to the west based on limited encounters with the natives, which fuelled misguided and racist stereotypes of non-Europeans. These views were documented in texts which were accepted as gospel and now continue to unconsciously define the way in which European powers view Islamic nations and Muslims.

Consequently, concerns amid Muslim Kashmiris that fair representation is increasingly becoming a pipedream are not taken seriously internationally.

The decision of Prime Minister Modi to revoke Kashmir’s special status was already deeply concerning, especially given the brutal lockdown that he has initiated in the region. But the granting of these domicile certificates marks an unsettling unilateral move in the region which will not only further strain India-Pakistan relations but could result in greater unrest, mainly at the expense of Kashmiris above all others.

It is thus incumbent on not only the forces directly involved to re-evaluate but also for international powers to raise their voices and act in order to protect those that are most vulnerable, the Kashmiris.

Hunter has just completed her MTheol degree at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and now works as a researcher. She tweets @MaryFloraHunter