Kashmir shuts down over threat to special rights 

An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard in front of closed shops during a one-day strike called by Kashmiri traders in Srinagar. (AFP)
Updated 06 March 2019
0

Kashmir shuts down over threat to special rights 

  • Indian Constitution gives Jammu and Kashmir special status
  • Fear that Muslim-majority demographic will change

NEW DELHI: There was a shutdown in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday over attempts to change a law that gives special rights to the state and the people living there.

Trade associations staged the one-day in strike in protest at calls among the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to change Article 35A, which gives Jammu and Kashmir a special status in the Indian Constitution.

Article 35A confers special status to permanent residents and bars people from outside the state from acquiring any immovable property inside it. It also gives permanent residents special rights and privileges in public sector jobs, acquisition of property in the state, scholarships and other public aid and welfare.

Besides Article 35A, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution also grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

“The BJP has only one agenda in Kashmir and that is to remove Article 370 and 35 A - the two main important provisions that give specials rights to the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” Haji Muhammad Yasin, chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance, told Arab News. “They want to alter the demography of the Muslim majority state by diluting Article 35A and, once they succeed, they can do anything in the valley. It’s a question of the survival of the state. We will oppose any attempt to alter Article 35A with all our might.”

The shutdown came days ahead of a crucial hearing in the Supreme Court on Article 35A that will decide if the constitutional provision is valid.

Last September the BJP’s Ashwini Upadhyay questioned Article 35A’s validity and filed a plea with the Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

His petition said that the provision was a temporary one and it, along with Article 370, had lapsed with the dissolution of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly in 1957.

The provision was incorporated in 1954 by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

“The question on Article 35A is sub judice and it is premature to comment on this,” the valley’s BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat told Arab News. “No political party or group has a right to talk about or discuss this issue when the matter is pending in court.”

She said she would respect whatever judgement came in the Supreme Court.

Other political parties have warned about the consequences of changing or scrapping Article 35A.

“We have to get united and sit together to chalk out a strategy to save Article 35A because if there is any tampering with it, then there will be no question of saving Article 35A, but about saving Jammu and Kashmir,” Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of the state and leader of the People’s Democratic Party, told Arab News.

Sheikh Showkat Hussain, professor at the Central University of Kashmir, said Article 35A protected the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir, its properties and services.

“It’s a fundamental rights for everyone to move and settle down anywhere in India. It was anticipated that people would come and settle down in Jammu and Kashmir, so constitutional provisions were made in 1954 to protect the state from outside settlers. But such exclusive provision does not exist only for Kashmir, there are other states also where special provisions have been made to protect the rights of the local inhabitants,”  he told Arab News.

“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - the ideological godfather of the BJP - has long been saying that the demography of Jammu and Kashmir needs to be altered and today’s politics are the reflection of that thought. The politics around Article 35A are part of the majoritarian project of Hindu right-wing parties.”

He said the BJP wanted to create “Kashmir phobia, Pakistan phobia” to consolidate the Hindu vote ahead of elections this year.


Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

Updated 43 min 47 sec ago
0

Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

  • Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday
  • “We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor

CHRISTCHURCH: Muslims held emotional prayers inside Christchurch’s main mosque on Saturday for the first time since a white supremacist massacred worshippers there, as New Zealand sought to return to normality after the tragedy.
The Al Noor mosque had been taken over by police for investigations and security reasons after alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant gunned down Muslims gathered there and at a smaller mosque for Friday prayers on March 15, killing 50 people.
Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday.
“We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor, adding that there were no plans yet to fully reopen.
Among the first to enter was massacre survivor Vohra Mohammad Huzef, who said two of his roommates were killed and that he managed to live only by hiding under bodies.
“I could feel the bullets hitting the people and I could feel the blood coming down on me from the people who were shot,” said Huzef, a Christchurch civil engineer originally from India.
“Everyone wants to get back in again to give praise and to catch up. This is the central point of our community.”
The attacks shocked a country of 4.5 million that is known for its tolerance and prompted global horror, heightened by Tarrant’s cold-blooded livestreaming of the massacre.
New Zealand came to a standstill on Friday to mark one week since the bloodshed, with the Muslim call to prayer broadcast across the country followed by two minutes of silence.
The ceremonies saw poignant scenes of Maoris performing the traditional haka war dance, and non-Muslim New Zealand women donning makeshift Islamic headscarves in solidarity.
A day earlier, the country outlawed the military-style rifles used in the assault with immediate effect.
But one of four concert sites at a music festival in the capital Wellington was evacuated on Saturday night just before a planned minute of silence for Christchurch, underlining lingering apprehensions.
Police cited unspecified “concerns about a person,” but later called it an “innocent misunderstanding” and the concert was slated to proceed.
In Christchurch, police also handed back Linwood Mosque, the second killing zone several kilometers away from Al Noor, but no plans to allow visitors were announced.
An armed police presence will remain at both mosques, as well as others around New Zealand.
Workers have rushed to repair the mosques’ bullet-pocked walls and clean blood-spattered floors.
At Al Noor, visitors knelt at a garden tap to wash their feet and faces in ritual pre-prayer ablutions.
Some wept quietly inside the mosque, where bright sunlight streamed through windows and the air smelled of fresh paint. No bullet holes were seen.
Men and women then knelt and prayed on a padded carpet underlay taped to the floor, still awaiting replacements for the mosque’s blood-stained rugs.
Several members of Christchurch semi-professional football club Western A.F.C. arrived in team colors to honor three victims who were known to the team due to their interest in the sport. The players left a bouquet of flowers outside the entrance to the mosque’s grounds.
The victims included 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, who dreamed of playing in goal for Manchester United, according to his father.
“We all love playing football and the best thing we can do is just to go out and enjoy it really, and obviously play for those guys that have been lost and think about them while we are doing it,” said team member Aaron McDonald, 20.
The mosque’s imam Gamal Fouda arrived draped in a New Zealand flag.
The day before, Fouda delivered an impassioned memorial service at a park next to the mosque that was watched globally and in which he praised “unbreakable” New Zealand for uniting in the tragedy’s wake.
Around 2,000 people gathered Saturday at the same park to join a “March for Love” procession through Christchurch.
Officials and police said two relatives of victims had died, with New Zealand identifying one as 65-year-old Suad Adwan, who had arrived from Jordan for the burial of her son Kamel Darwish, 38.
The grief-stricken mother was found Saturday morning having apparently died in her sleep, just hours after her son’s burial, of what police called a “medical event.”
No other details on the deaths were given.
But normality slowly returned to Christchurch as children played cricket near Al Noor and a previously scheduled 100-kilometer (62-mile) cycling race went ahead as planned.
New Zealand, which has already charged two people for distributing the gruesome livestreamed video of the attack, has now also made it a crime to share the alleged killer’s “manifesto,” local media reported.
In the document, Tarrant says the killings were in response to what he termed a Muslim “invasion” of Western countries.
“Others have referred to this publication as a ‘manifesto’, but I consider it a crude booklet that promotes murder and terrorism,” Chief Censor David Shanks was quoted as saying.