Kashmir shuts down to protest new land laws

SRINAGAR, INDIA (AP) — Shops and businesses were shut in several parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir yesterday as separatists challenging Indian rule called for a general strike to denounce new laws that allow any Indians to buy land in the disputed region.

Government forces in riot gear patrolled streets in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar in anticipation of anti-India protests.

Public transport also stayed off the roads.

Kashmir’s main separatist grouping called the strike to protest new land laws that India enacted last Monday, allowing any of its nationals to buy or its military to directly acquire land in the region. Pro-India politicians in Kashmir have also criticised the laws and accused the government of putting the region’s land up for sale.

The new legislation ended or modified most laws that governed local land rights. It also abolished 1950s land reform laws that redistributed large patches of land to landless farmers.

Kashmiris walk in a closed market area during a strike in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. PHOTO: AP

The move has exacerbated concerns of Kashmiris and rights groups who see such measures as a settler-colonial project to change the region’s demography.

They are likening the new arrangement to the West Bank or Tibet, with settlers living in guarded compounds among disenfranchised locals.

They said the changes will reduce the region to a colony.

Until last year, outsiders were not allowed to buy property in the region. But in August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government scrapped Kashmir’s special status, split the region into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir — and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.

The move triggered widespread anger amid a harsh security clampdown and communications blackout.

Since then, the country has brought in a slew of changes through new laws.