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Kashmir’s Christians fear increased persecution as the region loses special status

Revoking the previously protected special status of Jammu and Kashmir raises fears that tensions against minorities in the region will increase.

The newly revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had given special status to the Muslim-majority region allowing it to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal administration of the state.

Kashmiri Christians, many of whom are from a Muslim background, often face pressure from their local communities.  They are now concerned that persecution will increase under an increasing Hindu nationalist agenda as power dynamics in the region shift.

Dr Matthew Rees from 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 amongst 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.”

Religious minorities in India are also increasingly concerned that the government will introduce anti-conversion legislation in Kashmir. This will make life difficult for people wishing to convert to another religion from Hinduism. .

Meanwhile, forty-nine Indian celebrities have written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to take action on intolerance, lynching and religious persecution of minorities in the nation.

The letter said that while the number of cases of violence against minorities was on the rise, there was a definite decline in the percentage of convictions of perpetrators.

The letter also detailed that there were 254 religious identity-based hate crimes between 1 January 2009 and 29 October 2018 where at least 91 persons were killed and 579 were injured.  It went on to add that 90% of these attacks had been reported after May 2014, when the BJP government assumed power nationally.

These figures are much lower than the number of incidents Christians in India have reported so far. However the letter still has much significance since it has been signed by some of the most renowned film-makers and activists of India.

The origins of Article 370

Article 370, along with Article 35A, explicitly implied that Jammu and Kashmir state's residents lived under a separate set of laws, including laws related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to resident of other Indian states. 

The history of Article 370 act can be traced back to 1947 when two months after India's independence Kashmir was attacked by a large number of armed tribesmen. The ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh, wrote a letter to the Governor General, Lord Mountbatten, requesting India to provide military aid. He attached to his letter the instrument of accession to India.

Mountbatten signed the instrument, however, as per the document, only defence, external affairs and communications would be handed over to the government of India, while control over all other sectors would be retained by the ruler of Kashmir. Article 370 was therefore introduced in the constitution to preserve the specific terms under which Kashmir had agreed to accede to India.

India is number 10 on the Open Doors World Watch List, the annual ranking of the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Around 64 million Christians live in India – less than five per cent of the total population.

Christians in India face horrific levels of violence from extremists, with thousands of attacks taking place every year. Several states in India have brought in anti-conversion laws. These laws prevent people from converting to any religion from Hinduism. Currently, anti-conversion laws are in force in seven states: Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Uttarakhand. Hindu radicals are calling to impose the anti-conversion legislation at the national level.