India grants Kashmir residency to outsiders as demographic engineering fears grow

A woman with her child walks past Indian army soldiers near a mosque at the site of a gunbattle at Meej Pampore area of Pulwama district, south of Srinagar on June 19, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2020

India grants Kashmir residency to outsiders as demographic engineering fears grow

  • 25,000 residency applications accepted since mid-May
  • Muslim-majority state under central government control

NEW DELHI: Fears of demographic engineering in Jammu and Kashmir are coming true following the Indian government’s acceptance of 25,000 residency applications from outsiders.

In April Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced a new set of laws giving domicile rights to non-Kashmiri Indians, a move which analysts said was aimed at altering the demographic character of the country’s only Muslim-majority region. 

Reports indicate that more than 33,000 residence applications have been received, mostly in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, and 25,000 of those have been accepted since mid-May. The local government spokesperson refused to comment.

Those who have lived in the state for 15 years, or studied there for seven, are eligible to become permanent residents. Registered migrants and the children of central government officials who have served in Jammu and Kashmir for a period of 10 years are also allowed to acquire domicile certificates.

Earlier this week Navin Kumar Choudhary, a resident of the eastern state of Bihar who was a top bureaucrat in Jammu for 26 years, became the first non-local official to get a domicile certificate under the new law.

“All our misgivings about the new domicile rules in Jammu and Kashmir are coming to the fore,” the state’s former chief minister and National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah said in a statement on Friday. “The NC opposed the changes because we could see a nefarious design behind the changes,” he said.

NC spokesman Imran Nabi on Saturday described the development as “the last nail in the coffin and injustice” to the people of Kashmir. “This is a direct attack on our land and jobs,” he told Arab News.

According to the region’s former ruling People’s Democratic Party, New Delhi was seeking to alter Kashmir’s identity.

“As the agenda unfolds, it becomes clear that along with the intended demographic change, the target is the jobs, natural resources, cultural identity and everything that the people of Kashmir had tried to save by acceding to India with firm constitutional guarantees,” it said in a statement.

Turmoil in the state intensified last year when New Delhi annulled Article 370 of the country’s constitution, which had guaranteed it special autonomous status as well as granting locals exclusive land and job rights. The abrogation sparked widespread anger, which was met with a brutal response from India’s military. 

The central government also divided the state into two union territories - Union Territory of Ladakh and Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. They are directly governed by a New Delhi representative and their local assemblies have little political and administrative authority.

Anuradha Bhasin, the Jammu-based editor of the leading English language daily newspaper the Kashmir Times, said that the aim of the domicile law was to change the demography and “disempower” local people.

“It is difficult to say who these people are who have applied for domiciles,” she said. “But what is surprising is the ease with which the applications have been processed ... This raises a question mark."

Srinagar-based Hina Bhat, from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, saw no harm in the new rules. 

“After the abrogation of Article 370, it was bound to happen,” she told Arab News. “If the people of Kashmir can buy land outside the region, in Delhi and all, what’s the harm if people from Delhi buy land in Jammu and Kashmir? I feel that it will add value to the politics of the state. Even before the removal of Article 370, outsiders were having land in the valley on lease and I don’t think it changes much now with the domicile law.”

Kashmiri analysts and rights activists remain worried, however. 

“This is the natural corollary to the abrogation of Article 370,” Jammu-based civil rights advocate Anil Sethi told Arab News. “The definition of domicile is too vague and can be manipulated by anyone. I am slightly worried and anxious with the change in the domicile law.”

Srinagar-based political analyst Altaf Hussain feared that the new residency rules would only heighten divisions.

“This will further accentuate the resentment and wipe out the middle ground in the valley,” he said. “The sense of alienation is stronger than before and even those who were pro-India are feeling let down and have a strong sense of helplessness.”

Pregnant pause: Afghan women urged to delay motherhood due to virus crisis

Updated 6 min 18 sec ago

Pregnant pause: Afghan women urged to delay motherhood due to virus crisis

  • Couples are being advised to space their next pregnancy
  • Pregnant women are five times more likely than other women to be hospitalized in intensive care units

KABUL: Afghan health officials are urging women to delay plans to become pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak or until a vaccine is available to treat the deadly disease.
Akmal Samsor, a Ministry of Public Health official, told Arab News on Saturday that couples are being advised to space their next pregnancy because pregnant women are five times more likely than other women to be hospitalized in intensive care units.
The move follows a public awareness campaign launched by the ministry on July 1, advising couples “about the use of family planning methods to avoid pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to ministry spokesman Masooma Jafari.
In one of the videos posted on the ministry’s social media page, Dr. Homaira Ayoubia talks to couples about the “gravity” of the COVID-19 crisis, warning that the dangers involved are “much greater for pregnant women than nonpregnant women.”
Ayoubia said: “Bring a necessary gap for the next round of pregnancy so that you and your child become immune.” 
The warning was issued as the country remains in lockdown with 34,366 infections and almost 1,000 deaths recorded as of Saturday. Women make up 22 percent of the total fatalities.
Almost 1 million children are born in Afghanistan every year, adding to pressures faced by the health-care system in the war-torn country, which has an estimated population of 33 million.
With almost 3 million people dying in the almost four decades of war, many Afghans prefer to have more than one child.
Afghanistan’s health facilities are considered to be extremely poor, with official data showing that more than $300 million is spent in medical tourism by Afghans seeking treatment abroad, mostly in India, every year.
The coronavirus outbreak has added to the pressures faced by the health-care system and the government, which has come under sharp criticism for its mismanagement of COVID-19 funds.
Since the outbreak and subsequent lockdown in March, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said that an estimated 450 million women, from across the world, were either using contraceptives or avoiding visiting health facilities due to a fear of contracting the virus.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social distancing and other strategies to reduce transmission, is anticipated to affect the ability of these women to continue using contraception,” the UNFPA said in its findings published in April.
“Clinical staff occupied with the COVID-19 response may not have time to provide services, or may lack personal protective equipment to provide services safely. Health facilities in many places are closing or limiting services,” it added.
Afghan doctors say the ministry’s directive is a step in the right direction.
“Access to services for pregnant women is a concern during the pandemic. An increase in the number of births while access to services is limited could increase maternal and newborn mortalities,” Homa Jalil, a gynaecologist at a government run-hospital, told Arab News.
Others suggest the government needs to do more to safeguard public health.
“There is a high risk factor for pregnancy in Afghanistan, and serious preventive steps are needed to reduce the risk,” Mohammed Nawrooz Haqmal, an Afghan health expert based in the UK, said.
He doubted many will follow the advice of the ministry to delay pregnancy since instructions on the lockdown had been widely ignored in recent months.
Ministry spokesperson Masooma Jafari voiced the same concern.
“We cannot be certain that people will follow the advice. However, we shouldn’t ignore the effect of awareness programs on people. The ministry will do its best to advise people on the consequences of pregnancy during the crisis and provide services to pregnant women,” she said.