Sweeping Evictions Rock Jammu & Kashmir

Since the beginning of February,  hundreds of people have been forcibly evicted from their homes by the settler-colonialist government abetted by the callousness and ineptitude of the local politicians and their followers. The evictions have also targeted and removed existing businesses and scrambled much of the political landscape of Kashmir.

Politicians condemned the evictions while also doing little to stop them and often issuing contradictory statements about following the law.

The government wants its land back

In 2001, the Jammu and Kashmir State Land Act (more commonly known as the Roshni Act) was passed to sell state-owned land to those who were living on it. The land sales would be used to finance power works projects throughout the valley.

The act was popular and from the framers’ viewpoint, it was a win-win as it meant less land for the state to manage and could be used to raise revenue for power projects in the valley. To formally own the plots. residents simply needed to pay a fee to the government and it was theirs.

In the seventeen years in which the law was active, 43,000 acres of land were transferred to private ownership – most of it in Jammu province.

The law has been in legal limbo since 2018 (four years after Modi was elected Prime Minister) when the then-Governor Satya Pal Malik repealed the law. The law’s provisions were struck down by the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir as being unconstitutional. Not only was the law invalidated but so were sales and land acquisitions that were made under the act.

This made everyone who paid for the land legally a squatter.

Unleashing chaos

With so much land falling back into state hands, the government had a huge problem – what to do with all the people living there?

According to the law, the people residing there were squatters and needed to be evicted. However, the evictions did not fall neatly along political, religious, ethnic, or class lines. Rich and poor alike could be evicted, as could both Hindus and Muslims.

Ninety percent of the evictions were scheduled in Jammu – now a majority Hindu region.

Perhaps this is why the government response has been so confused, as the ruling BJP party had its supporters caught up in the evictions.

Caught off guard, with terrible optics, the government tried to backpedal on its implementation saying only the “rich and wealthy landgrabbers” would be subject to eviction.

Yet, as with most things involving the BJP, the implementation has been a disaster.

Mass evictions shatter lives

On January 9th, 2023 – Jammu and Kashmir’s imposed administration issued a directive that all encroachments had to be cleared by January 31st.

Ghulam, who declined to give his last name, bought a shop that was originally on state land. When he bought the shop, the previous owner had stated that he would provide him with the proof of purchase that he needed. However, Ghulam never received that paperwork. Now he is being evicted because of it.

“In all these years, the revenue authorities have not objected to it. This shop is my only source of livelihood. If they take it or demolish it, where will I go?”

Others have made their livelihood and fed their families by maintaining orchards on public land.

On February 4th, the authorities tore down a warehouse. “The government said poor people will not be touched and those who have small plots of 10-15 marlas of land won’t be touched. But look what they have done to us,” said one of the co-owners of the warehouse. “This is injustice.”
Elsewhere in the region, a violent confrontation exploded after authorities tried to tear down a popular automotive showroom.

The government’s process for evicting tenants has been confusing, and contradictory, often coming without warning to the occupants.

PDP president and former Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, held the central government responsible for making Kashmir “worse than Afghanistan.”

Widespread condemnation

The process by which the evictions have been taking place has reached the international press. Amnesty International condemned the practice. Their statement read:

“Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which India is a state party, everyone has the right to adequate housing which includes a prohibition on forced evictions. Where justified, evictions should be carried out in accordance with general principles of reasonableness and proportionality and include safeguards of reasonable and adequate notice; provision of legal remedies for infringement of rights; and provision of legal aid to people who need it to seek redress from the courts. No one should be made homeless or vulnerable to other human rights violations because of evictions.”

Prominent Congress politician,  Rahul Gandhi denounced the evictions  and the BJP, saying, “the Union Territory wanted employment, better business, and love but instead got the “BJP’s bulldozer.”

The Congress, National Conference, and PDP have also condemned evictions.

Few organizations and leaders have been willing to defend the evictions, even those carrying them out. One notable exception is Panun Kashmir Chairman Ajay Chrungoo who welcomed the demolitions. “We welcome the action taken by the Jammu and Kashmir administration against the illegal encroachments and constructions across the Union Territory, particularly by top political bigwigs.” Chungroo’s support of the demolition drive, however, is not unexpected. He heads the radical right pro-India Panun Kashmir that does not stand for the right to self-determination of Kashmiri majority voters and supports the Indian settler-colonial status. They are selfish and don’t mind the Dogras of Jammu being dragged along with Muslims in the demolition dispute. Just as long as Kashmiri Pandits and their children don’t have to join the children of Indian mothers to fight in the Kashmir conflict.

Final thoughts – Unequal burdens

There is a simple fix to this – Reinstate the Roshni Act, or simply recognize the landholders as legitimate. For the ruling BJP it is ingrained in their DNA – not to do anything that could benefit Kashmiri Muslims accidentally. As such, they will likely continue the evictions. If Hindus and other supporters get caught in the evictions, so be it.

This is the failure of authoritarianism laid bare.

Because when power becomes so centralized that there are no further checks or balances, the autocrats will have no problem turning on the very people who brought them to power, and there will be no one left to speak out against them.