Shops and businesses are shut in several parts of Indian-administered Kashmir in a general strike called to protest against new laws that allow Indians to buy land in the disputed region.
Pro-India politicians in Kashmir have also criticised the laws, which came into effect on Tuesday and allow any of its nationals to buy land in the region, and accused India of putting Kashmir’s land up for sale.
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The shutdown call was made by a separatist group headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who condemned the new laws as part of New Delhi’s “policy of permanent demographic change”.
Government forces in riot gear patrolled streets in Indian-administered Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Saturday.
Until last year, Indians were not allowed to buy property in the region.
But in August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government scrapped Kashmir’s special status, annulled its separate constitution, split the region into two federal territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh – and subsequently removed inherited protections on land and jobs.
The action triggered widespread anger and economic ruin amid a harsh security clampdown and communications blackout.
Kashmir residents expressed their resentment against the new laws and termed it India’s settler-colonial project.
“Our voices since last year have been completely choked,” Mushtaq Wani, a 50-year-old businessman in Srinagar, told Al Jazeera.
“This is our silent protest to contest the new laws. Our fate is like Palestine now – we will be made as slaves with no opportunities and no rights in our own homes. We don’t know when we will be thrown out of our own homes and we cannot say a word.”
Another resident, Muhammad, 35, who did not want to give his full name, said he feared for his family’s future.
“Whatever happened in the last three decades, we still had a little protection [in] that we owned land and homes and outsiders were barred to settle here,” he said.
“But now, that is being taken away from us. It seems this will make the lives of our children and the coming generations seem like powerless strangers in their own land.”
Imposing its culture, language
Muhammad added that India was imposing its culture and language on Kashmiris.
“They are issuing orders in Hindi, changing signs to Hindi and we don’t understand that,” he said. “We don’t know what are [they] going to do with our land, property and our lives.”
India’s move in August 2019 triggered widespread anger and economic ruin amid a harsh security clampdown and communications blackout.
Since then, India has brought in a slew of changes through new laws.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both claiming the region in its entirety but governing partially.
The new laws also authorise the Indian army to declare any area as “strategic” for operational, residential and training purposes against Kashmiri rebels.
Additional reporting by Rifat Fareed in Srinagar.