New Law Threatens Demographic Balance in Kashmir

Residency certificates issued . . .

Since May 18, around 25,000 people have been granted domicile certificates in India’s new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The certificates are related to a new set of laws focused on reorganizing Jammu and Kashmir, which had semi-autonomous status until the Indian government’s unilateral decision to revoke this status in August 2019. The new domicile law now allows migrants from other areas and public servants, among others, to claim the right of residency in the region, which was previously reserved for locals only.

Who is impacted?

The domicile certificate will grant eligible individuals not only the right of residency but also the ability to hold government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir. When the Indian government revoked all special provisions for the former state, it argued that such changes were necessary to integrate the region with the rest of the country. The eligibility criteria apply to Kashmiri migrants living outside the region, central government employees who have served there for at least 10 years, and children of people who have resided in the region for at least 15 years, among others. The surprisingly swift move has raised concerns among locals, who worry that the demographic balance in Kashmir will change, resulting in a dilution of its Muslim-majority character.

Debate continues . . .

The new domicile law has been widely criticized by various political parties in the region, including the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The NC contends that the amendments to the regions’ laws hold little water since the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Bill is being challenged in India’s Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Kashmiri Pandits, who are Hindus and earlier fled the region, welcomed the domicile law. But the government has done little to assist their return. Furthermore, the amendments come at a time when the region is also fighting the coronavirus and is under lockdown. Experts fear that this rush to bring non-locals into the region may put locals at a disadvantage, particularly those who lack paperwork to prove their right to residency status in the region.