Shops and businesses were shut in several parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday as separatists challenging Indian rule called for a general strike to denounce new laws that allow any Indians to buy land in the disputed region.
Government forces in riot gear patrolled streets in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar in anticipation of anti-India protests. Public transport also stayed off the roads, reports AP.
Kashmir’s main separatist grouping called the strike to protest new land laws that India enacted on Monday, allowing any of its nationals to buy or its military to directly acquire land in the region. Pro-India politicians in Kashmir have also criticized the laws and accused India of putting the region’s land up for sale.
The new legislation ended or modified most laws that governed local land rights. It also abolished 1950s land reform laws that redistributed large patches of land to landless farmers.
The move has exacerbated concerns of Kashmiris and rights groups who see such measures as a settler-colonial project to change the Muslim-majority region’s demography. They are likening the new arrangement to the West Bank or Tibet, with settlers living in guarded compounds among disenfranchised locals. They say the changes will reduce the region to a colony.
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 — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir — and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. The move 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. They are often drafted by bureaucrats without any democratic bearings and much to the resentment and anger of the region’s people, many of whom want independence from India or unification with Pakistan.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but both countries claim the region in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.
The new laws, part of a series of hard-line Hindu nationalist policies by Modi, also authorize the Indian army to declare any area as “strategic” for operational, residential and training purposes against Kashmiri rebels.
The Indian government said the decision was made to encourage development and peace.
“I want to say this forcefully and with full responsibility that agricultural land has been kept reserved for farmers,” Lt. Guv. Manoj Sinha, New Delhi’s top administrator in Kashmir, said recently. “No outsider will come on those lands.”
The government has also said it only wanted to invite outside industries into the designated “industrial areas.”
The pro-freedom conglomerate said in a statement that India was undermining any possibility of peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
“Instead, a policy of permanent demographic change is aggressively being pushed to snatch our land, destroy our identity and turn us into a minority in our own land,” the statement said, adding that “laws are being invented and amended by New Delhi and forcibly thrust upon the people.”
India describes the Kashmiri militancy as Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.
Read Also: India imposes curfew in parts of Kashmir
India has registered 48,268 new cases in the last 24 hours on Saturday, bringing the total tally to 8,137,119, according to the latest data released by the federal health ministry.
With 551 deaths since Thursday morning, the death toll in the country due to the pandemic reached 121,641, added the ministry's data, reports Xinhua.
Still there are 582,649 active cases in the country, while 7,432,829 people have been cured and discharged from hospitals so far.
The Indian government has been ramping up COVID-19 testing facilities across the length and breadth of the country.
Till Friday a total of 108,796,064 tests were conducted in the country, out of which 1,067,976 tests were conducted on Friday alone, showed the data from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Saturday.
Over the past few days, the national capital New Delhi has been witnessing a fresh spate of COVID-19 cases. According to official figures, the cases have been rising by 10 percent over the past four days.
Worried over the prevailing situation in the capital city, the country's home secretary has called a meeting with Delhi's health officials on Monday, confirmed a Delhi government official.
India on Thursday lodged a strong protest with Saudi Arabia over the issuance of a banknote with an "incorrect depiction" of this country's "external territorial boundaries".
The banknote issued by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority on October 24 on the occasion of Saudi Arabia taking over the presidency of the G20, had apparently excluded Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh from the Indian map.
"We have conveyed our serious concern to Saudi Arabia, both through their Ambassador in New Delhi as well as in Riyadh, for this gross misrepresentation of India's external territorial boundaries on an official and legal banknote of Saudi Arabia," Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told the media at the weekly briefing.
"We have asked the Saudi side for taking urgent corrective steps in this regard. I would like to further reiterate that the entire Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are integral parts of India," he added.
In recent years, India's ruling BJP government has tried to bolster ties with Saudi Arabia in a move perceived to pressurise neighbouring Pakistan. Last year, in a special gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally received Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Delhi airport, termed as "a new chapter in bilateral relations" by the Foreign Ministry.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had visited India at a time when hostilities between Delhi and Islamabad flared following a suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that claimed the lives of at least 40 paramilitary troopers.
India imports nearly 83% of the oil it consumes, making it one of the biggest importers of oil in the world. And most of its crude oil and cooking gas comes from Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Typhoon Molave set off landslides that killed at least 19 people and left 45 missing in central Vietnam, where ferocious wind and rain blew away roofs and knocked out power in a region of 1.7 million residents, state media said Thursday.
The casualties from the landslides bring the over-all death toll from the storm to at least 35, including 12 fishermen whose boats sank Wednesday as the typhoon approached with winds of up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour. Vietnamese officials say it’s the worst typhoon to hit the country in 20 years.
At least 59 people remain missing in the landslides and at sea. The toll may rise with many regions still unable to report details of the devastation amid the stormy weather.
Rescuers dug up eight bodies Thursday morning in Tra Van village in south central Quang Nam province where a hillside collapsed on houses. The victims had taken shelter in the community as the typhoon approached, the official Vietnam News Agency reported.
In Tra Leng village, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Tra Van, another landslide buried a community with several houses occupied by about 45 people. Four managed to escape. Rescuers have recovered eight bodies and were scrambling to save 37 others, Vietnam News said.
Tra Leng remains inaccessible due to damaged roads and other landslides and government disaster-response teams were using bulldozers and excavators to open up a road to bring in more rescuers and heavy equipment.
Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung traveled to the site where soldiers were clearing up a landslide with bulldozers and ordered officers to urgently bring in troops to the landslide-hit village.
“We must reach the landslide site the fastest way. First, send in more soldiers before we can get the big machine there. We have to reach the area by all means, including by using helicopters,” he said.
As troops scrambled to rescue those buried alive in Tra Leng, another part of a rain-soaked mountainside cascaded down in a torrent of mud in nearby Phuoc Loc district Thursday morning, trapping 11 people. Three bodies were pulled out immediately by villagers, Vietnam News said.
Other villagers in Phuoc Loc were advised to flee to safety given the unstable mountain slope.
The three landslide-hit areas lie in the mountains of the hard-hit province of Quang Nam in a coastal region still recovering from floods that killed 136 people and destroyed hundreds of houses earlier this month.
Four people were killed by falling trees and collapsed houses in Quang Nam and Gia Lai provinces when the typhoon slammed into the coast Wednesday. Navy search and rescue boats found the bodies of 12 of 26 fishermen whose boats sank Wednesday off Binh Dinh province, state media said.
The typhoon blew off roofs of about 56,000 houses and caused a massive blackout in Quang Ngai province, where 1.7 million people endured the typhoon onslaught overnight in darkness, according to Vietnam News.
At least 40,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters and authorities shut down offices, factories and schools to prevent casualties.
The typhoon left at least 16 people dead in the Philippines before blowing across the South China Sea toward Vietnam.
India’s confirmed coronavirus caseload surpassed 8 million on Thursday with daily infections dipping to the lowest level this week, as concerns grew over a major Hindu festival season and winter setting in.
India’s trajectory is moving toward the worst-hit country, the United States, which has over 8.8 million cases.
The Health Ministry reported another 49,881 infections and 517 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 120,527.
Life in India is edging back to pre-virus levels with shops, businesses, subway trains and movie theaters reopening and the country’s third-largest state of Bihar with a population of about 122 million people holding elections.
But health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections.
India saw a steep rise in cases in July and added more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. But it is seeing a slower pace of coronavirus spread since mid-September, when daily infections touched a record of 97,894 and the highest number of deaths at 1,275.
Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist, said that in most parts of India the infection curve was never flattened and the number of people who are now susceptible to the virus had decreased.
He warned that the ongoing festival season was likely to increase the speed of the viral spread, resulting in localized outbreaks where people gathered without masks and didn't adhere to social distancing.