UN human rights experts said Thursday that India's decision to end Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy and enact new laws could curtail the previous level of political participation of Muslims and other minorities in the country.
Such new laws could discriminate against Indian minorities in essential matters, including employment and land ownership, said a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir was established with specific autonomy guarantees to respect its people's ethnic, linguistic and religious identities, noted Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues, and Ahmed Shaheed, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
"The loss of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule by the Government in New Delhi suggests the people of Jammu and Kashmir no longer have their own government and have lost power to legislate or amend laws in the region to ensure the protection of their rights as minorities," said the special rapporteurs.
Jammu and Kashmir is also the only state in India with a Muslim majority.
On Aug. 5, 2019, the Indian government unilaterally revoked Jammu and Kashmir's constitutional special status and, in May 2020, passed the so-called Domicile Rules.
This removed protections given to those from the territory. Subsequent changes to land laws are further eroding these protections, added the statement.
"The number of successful applicants for domicile certificates that appear to be from outside Jammu and Kashmir raises concerns that demographic change on a linguistic, religious, and ethnic basis is already underway," said the experts.
The new legislation overrides previous laws, which granted the Kashmiri Muslim, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Sikh, Ladhaki, and other established minorities rights to buy property, own land, and access certain state jobs.
"These legislative changes may have the potential to pave the way for people from outside the former state of Jammu and Kashmir to settle in the region, alter the demographics of the region and undermine the minorities' ability to exercise effectively their human rights," the experts said.
The UN experts urged the Indian government to ensure that the economic, social, and cultural rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir are protected and that they can express their political opinions and participate meaningfully in matters affecting them.
The experts underlined that they are in contact with the government on this matter.
The president of Azad Kashmir, or Pakistani-administered Kashmir, on Thursday said a recent "guided tour" of foreign envoys to Indian-administered Kashmir as an attempt by New Delhi to "project a false image of normalcy" in the disputed territory.
President Masood Khan denounced what he said was "India's stage-managed" visit of a group of Delhi-based envoys to "Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir."
"Kashmir is burning, and India has vainly tried to project an image of 'normalcy' in the territory," said Khan in a statement.
India flew a group of foreign envoys to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday for a two-day trip.
It was the third visit of foreign envoys to Kashmir since Aug. 5, 2019, when New Delhi scrapped the Himalayan valley's autonomous status and imposed a security and communications lockdown.