It may be too early for India to indulge in triumphalism over the implementation of the new domicile rule for Jammu & Kashmir. As Israel and Sri Lanka illustrate, seizing and occupying territories may mean victory, but almost always Pyrrhic.
“History Laughs at Both Victim and Aggressor”Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian national poet
In November 2019, filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri posted a video on his Facebook page of India’s consul general in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty, addressing a group of Kashmiri Pandits at a private event. The senior diplomat spoke of the government’s intent behind bringing the two regions of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir under direct central rule. Chakravorty urged patience, saying he was convinced that the security situation in the Union Territory would improve and that “refugees” – Kashmiri Hindus – would be able to return to their villages in their lifetime. He added, “Because we already have a model in the world. I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it. I think we should push our leadership to do that…”
While the video sparked widespread anger, the Ministry of External Affairs refused to comment on the consul general’s remarks, despite repeated queries from reporters.
The New Domicile Law
Though the instance of a diplomat openly calling for taking inspiration from Israel was somewhat unprecedented, Chakravorty wasn’t the first to draw an analogy between Kashmir and Palestine, or India and Israel for that matter. There have been ominous whispers about Kashmir becoming like occupied Palestine ever since the Indian Government abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution – which accorded Jammu & Kashmir its semi-autonomous status – on August 5, 2019. But on March 31 2020, when the government announced a new domicile rule for Jammu & Kashmir, the whispers grew louder even as the whisperers felt no joy at their vindication. Under the new law, anyone who has resided in J & K for 15 years or studied in the former state for seven years, all children of central government employees who have served in J & K for 10 years, and registered migrants – mostly West Pakistan refugees – can claim a “domicile certificate” for residency benefits and be eligible for government jobs. Critics were quick to point out that this was another step towards the Hindu nationalist government’s systematic disempowerment of India’s only Muslim-majority province. They decried what they saw as settler colonialism through forced demographic changes and subjugation of indigenous people. Since Kashmir’s 30-year-old secessionist movement has been inextricably entwined with the Kashmiri people’s collective anxiety over identity loss and alienation, erosion of indigenous culture, and destruction of the region’s fragile natural environment, the domicile law was interpreted as a full-blown assault on the very cause that underpinned the struggle for self-determination.
Watch: Kashmir’s new Domicile Law
Watch: Israel to demolish 100 Palestinian homes
Israel & India – Not Unlike, Not Alike
The new domicile law certainly has echoes of Israel’s policy of residency revocation and dispossessing locals in the West Bank – an area it captured in the Six-Day War of 1967. It must be noted that since 1967, Israel has steadily pursued a policy of Palestinian transfer from East Jerusalem through revocation of residency. From 1967-1995, an East Jerusalem Palestinian could lose his residency status by “settling outside Israel” for a period of seven years or more. In 1995, the criterion was broadened to revoke the residency status of Palestinians who moved their “centre of life” outside East Jerusalem even if they resided abroad for less than seven years. In addition to this policy, since 2006 the Israeli Minister of Interior punitively revokes the residency status of East Jerusalem Palestinians on the basis of reasons that include breach of “allegiance” to Israel. Pertinently, children of diaspora Kashmiris whose parents do not possess an existing certificate of permanent residence may not be eligible for domicile status without living in the region for 15 years.
Policies apart, several other commonalities bind Israel and India with regard to their ambitions in Palestine and Kashmir respectively.
To begin with, both India and Israel have been accused of using disproportionate military force against civilians in these territories. In Kashmir, the world’s most militarized zone, India has the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) to criminalize dissent through arbitrary arrests, indefinite detentions and torture. Likewise, Israel routinely uses military orders against Palestinians in the West Bank which include “administrative detention” – without trial or charges – and Defence (Emergency) Regulations for prosecuting Palestinians in military courts even for peaceful political activism. Secondly, both Indian and Israeli governments attempt to legitimize their actions by deploying language couched in the rhetoric of “defence” – ensuring national security and combating radical Islamist terror. Thirdly, Israel, with its Zionist ideological foundation, is a proudly ethno-nationalist state. India too may well be on its way to becoming a “Hindu Rashtra”, given the declared ethno-nationalistic aspirations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS) whose political arm the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is.
Differences, though fewer, aren’t nil. India, unlike Israel, does not have significant western backing in Europe or the United States. The clout of Indian-Americans too is negligible compared to the sway of the pro-Israel lobby. India, on the other hand, is yet to defeat Pakistan conclusively in battle. And finally, geopolitical tensions in the Kashmir region are further inflamed by China laying claim to Aksai Chin, the eastern part of the union territory of Ladakh. Unlike India, Israel does not have to contend with an emerging super-power.
Kashmir in the North, Sri Lanka in the South
Though comparisons between the Palestinian and Kashmiri struggles for sovereignty are frequent, a close parallel can also be found in India’s southern neighbour Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s nearly three-decade brutal civil war effectively ended after the killing of Velupillai Prabhakaran, separatist leader of the Tamil militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009. Over the years, thousands of Tamil Hindus in the insurgency-torn north and east were displaced due to the conflict. But even a decade later, large numbers continue to suffer displacement primarily due to occupation of swathes of land by Sri Lankan state security forces including the army, navy, air force, and police. Security forces also control access to schools, communal wells, arable lands, and religious monuments. According to data from the city government, in Jaffna alone, about 12 per cent of land remains under military control. Though Sri Lankan authorities justify post-war land occupation as essential for national security, several human-rights observers see it as an attempt to alter demographics. Disturbingly, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, many of the occupied lands are being utilized by the military for commercial ventures including restaurants, shops, hotels, and extraction of timber and sand. In the north, the army even runs luxury resorts on land seized from members of the Tamil minority who continue to languish in shanty towns not far from the plots they once owned. Unsurprisingly, despite the veneer of quiet order, lasting peace continues to elude authorities and civilians in these areas.
Watch: Altering demographics in Sri Lanka
It must be noted that in December 2019, the Indian government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to fast-track citizenship for all undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The act did not include the ethnic minority of Tamil Hindus from Sri Lanka, despite them having suffered decades of persecution including institutionalized discrimination and pogroms at the hands of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community.
Both Kashmir and Palestine represent festering conflicts with no end in sight. Since neither seems to be heading towards a positive outcome, likening one to another doesn’t help in yielding a cogent solution. Even if the new domicile law is not a covert attempt to occupy and colonize Kashmir, as many would argue, it does not augur well for the region. Instead of addressing the Kashmiri people’s growing estrangement or alleviating their concerns, it reinforces the forewarnings long issued by secessionists. What is more, it risks making Kashmir the deadliest flashpoint in Asia and indeed, the whole world.
In 1969, King Hussein of Jordan said, “Israel may have either peace or territory, but she can never have both.” That’s the sad bit about Pyrrhic victories such as those of Israel, Sri Lanka, and India.