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Kashmir split ‘very worrying’ for religious minorities in India

15 August 2019


Kashmiri women protest after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, on Sunday

Kashmiri women protest after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, on Sunday

THE imposition of direct rule on Kashmir by India is “worrying” for minority populations, including Christians, in the country, the charity Open Doors has said.

Last week, Delhi withdrew the special status of the state of Kashmir, which it shares with Pakistan, and split it in two. The move has led to protests both in the region, which is under martial law, and in Pakistan.

Speaking last week, Dr Matthew Rees, a spokesman for Open Doors, said: “The tensions in Kashmir are very worrying for religious minorities across India, and particularly for those living in Kashmir.

“This includes the local Christian population, many of whom are from a Muslim background and already experiencing severe pressure from their community. Sources in Kashmir have told Open Doors that they are concerned that this latest development will increase the already high levels of fear among the minority communities in the Kashmir. The events in the region make it very clear that no minority in India can expect any level of special protection.”

Internet and mobile networks have been cut in Kashmir, allowing little news to filter through to the 13 million people who live there, or news to come out. Tens of thousands of troops have been sent to the region to quell protests, on top of the 500,000 security personnel already there.

The revocation of Article 370 by the Indian parliament ended the special status that Kashmir has had since it joined the country in 1947, after the partition of India. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the territory, which they both claim in full, with multiple further clashes. China also claims part of it.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Jammu-Srinagar, the Rt Revd Ivan Pereira, appealed for dialogue over the crisis. He said last week: “It is all the more necessary to reopen the channels and reactivate a constructive dialogue.”

In an interview with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, he urged India and Pakistan to hold bilateral talks. He said: “Constructive dialogue is the only way forward, and all the actors involved should take it seriously. . . We need to re-establish an atmosphere of mutual trust, otherwise every attempt will be in vain.

In a television interview last Thursday, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, said that the move would free Kashmir of “terrorism”. He continued: “As a nation, we have taken a historic decision. Due to the past system, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were deprived of many rights, which was a major obstacle in their development. That is now over.”

The landslide win of Mr Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in elections in May suggested that voters had chosen “polarisation of faith” over development, the Church of North India’s then Bishop of Calcutta, Dr Probal Kanto Dutta, said (News, May 31).

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, compared the Indian government’s actions to those of the Nazis. He wrote on Twitter: “The attempt is to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing. Question is: Will the world watch and appease as they did Hitler at Munich?”

Large congregations were banned for the celebration of Eid in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir on Monday. Mr Khan visited the Pakistani side of Kashmir on Wednesday; the previous day, he had asked the UN Security Council to hold an emergency session to address India’s “illegal actions”.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Khan said that Pakistan was ready to teach India a lesson if it encroached on Pakistani-Kashmir. 

He said: “The Pakistani army has solid information that they [India] are planning to do something in Pakistani Kashmir, and they are ready and will give a solid response.

“We have decided that if India commits any type of violation we will fight until the end. The time has arrived to teach you a lesson.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury is to visit India next month. At a media briefing last month, his interfaith adviser, the Revd Dr Richard Sudworth, said that he was “encouraged” by the fact “that the Indian constitution does give freedom of religion and belief” (News, 31 July).

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