Rafiq and his brother Suhail were not at their auto-parts factory in Mehjoor Nagar, a locality in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, when the police first arrived to demolish it in February 2023.
‘Someone informed us [that the demolition was happening] and we ran there as fast as we could,’ says Rafiq. ‘The shutters were broken and bulldozers surrounded the factory. There was no notice, nothing.’
He says he watched as more than half of the factory was reduced to rubble within seconds. Together with his brother, Rafiq riffled through the wreckage to gather whatever belongings they could. ‘I felt like my heart stopped as I watched it all fall to the ground,’ he says. ‘All that was left was a plume of smoke and debris.’
Rafiq explains that the demolition injured a few of the labourers and damaged a few cars. ‘My family and I had to spend so many nights guarding the damaged property.’ He still lives in fear of the bulldozers coming back. ‘They will finish what they started,’ he says.
Ever since the end of British rule in 1947, Indian-administered Kashmir has been at the centre of a dispute between India and Pakistan. Kashmiris have consistently agitated for their right to self-determination. There is a heavy Indian military presence and armed conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the last three decades.
In August 2019, there were protests when Modi’s Hindu nationalist government stripped the region of its constitutional privileges and broke the Muslim-majority state up into two federally governed territories. The government imposed weeks-long clampdowns and internet shutdowns.
‘The checkpoints, armoured vehicles, and barbed wire were not enough, now the Jammu and Kashmir administration has come up with new “anti-encroachment policies”,’ Rafiq says.
Rafiq and Suhail are only two of many Kashmiris bearing the brunt of this devastating wave of demolitions. In a series of moves that has been likened to the Israeli pattern of preparing ground for illegal settlements, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir ordered the removal of all property on alleged state land.
The demolition push began on 9 January, when the Revenue Department of Jammu and Kashmir issued a circular aiming to ‘ensure that all encroachment on State land’ be completely removed by the end of the month.
Eviction orders were handed over to bureaucrats, police officers and also a separatist leader. Land was also retrieved from opposition party leaders.
Former bureaucrat Farooq Renzu Shah, whose small 0.05 hectare of land was recovered in Budgam districts, still had praise for the government. ‘This is a good initiative,’ he says. ‘A number of influential people will try and sabotage it but the government should implement the rule of law without fearing them.’
The demolitions soon began to target ordinary people like Rafiq and Suhail, leaving thousands vulnerable to sudden evictions and an uncertain future. ‘Whatever savings and jewellery we had, we sold them to start this small business,’ Rafiq says. ‘Why are they now targeting people like us who have small plots?’
Those with smaller plots of land were supposed to be spared but the reality on the ground shows otherwise. More than 20,000 hectares of land were seized before the operation was eventually halted in February.
Rafiq says that his family were promised compensation for the
damages, but are yet to receive anything.
RAZED TO THE GROUND
The sudden demolitions also caused huge distress for 58-year-old Abdul Hafiz (name changed), who owned a scrap factory in Mehjoor Nagar for many decades. ‘I have had this factory for many years,’ he says. ‘Without any prior notice, the municipal councillor along with other officials came to my factory and asked me to vacate it. Before I could brace myself, it was razed to the ground. Nobody told us that this is state land.’
Abdul says that he pays around $120 a month in rent – money he still has to pay despite losing the factory. ‘Following the demolition, the landlord told me that under the provisions of the Roshni Act, he had approached the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and paid a premium after which he was given the ownership rights to this piece of land. How is he an encroacher now if the court itself upheld the allotment as legal and valid years back?’…
This story was originally published in newint.org. Read the full story here