Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 28 - April 2023 عربى
International Developments

Taking Kashmir Land under Indian Occupation

Expropriation of land, illegal occupation of land, seizure and destruction of property

Indian authorities have escalated efforts to structurally disempower Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir (IAK) pursuant to ongoing efforts to promote forced demographic change and the cultural erasure of Muslims. Indian occupation authorities have forced out-migration of local Muslims, immigration of non-local Hindus, and expanded Indian Hindu settler colonialism. This process has intensified since India’s unilateral moves to eliminate crucial rights that protected the economic and cultural integrity of IAK, disintegrate IAK (separating regions of the territory) and reclassify the regions of occupied Jammu & Kashmir as a “Union Territory.”

Since August 2019, over a million people have reportedly gained the right to vote in Jammu & Kashmir for the first time. Of these, 96% are Hindu. With a total Jammu & Kashmir population of approximately 13 million, official records show that those new million+ voters include 698,800 who received domicile certificates as of December 2022, including 7,346 Indian bureaucrats and army officers (many of whom are likely responsible for atrocity crimes in the occupied territory).

On 18 May 2020, the Indian government imposed Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Domicile Certificate (Procedure) Rules in violation of historic rights nominally guaranteed by treaty, constitution and international humanitarian and human rights law. This new illegal legislation diminished the people of IAK’s historic rights to access public employment and educational opportunities and their rights to real property in IAK, and are an essential element of the myriad policies that ensure the economic and political disempowerment of Muslims and forced demographic change across IAK.

In Kashmir, Indian-occupation authorities have expropriated private property worth millions of US dollars on the pretext of anti-terror measures. The Indian occupation’s Jammu & Kashmir Administration (JKA) recently announced new land grant rules that authorize the dispossession of local businesses from land subject to long-term leases in contravention of custom and the intent of those leases. These measures have the purpose and effect of facilitating the redistribution of valuable real property rights to non-locals.

The Indian administration also has unveiled plans to create a database of Kashmiri families in the territory, heightening credible concerns regarding surveillance, silencing, reprisals, and transnational repression. The Indian state-run Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Board (for Islamic endowment properties) contravened long-standing custom by dispossessing local, community-based shrine and mosque committees, bringing Muslim cultural and religious institutions under direct control of the occupying state’s authority.

In March 2023, the JKA’s State Investigative Agency (SIA) raided eight locations in Jammu & Kashmir in connection with an “anti-terror” case mounted earlier in the year against Maulvi Sarjan Barkati, the face of protests in 2016, to allegedly probe the collection of funds and delivering anti-national speeches. Barkati was also one of many Kashmiri religious scholars targeted in an escalated campaign against independent religious thought and dissent in IAK that began on 15 September 2022.  Indian authorities arrested certain prominent individuals’ whose names were publicly reported and many others who were not publicly reported or formally charged.  Those publicly reported were arrested scholars from civil organizations, includingTehreek-e-Soutul Awliya, Jamiat-Ahle Hadees, and Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir (JeI), as well as Sarjan Barkati.

In a widening campaign of collective punishment and reprisals against Kashmiris for dissent, Indian authorities continued to escalate their forced dispossession of private property.  A key target of that campaign has been the leading Islamic socio-religious civil society organization in IAK, Jamaat-e Islami Jammu & Kashmir (founded in 1953 and banned by Indian authorities in February 2019) and individuals associated with it.  A SIA spokesperson claimed the JeI properties were sealed “as part of efforts to choke the availability of funds for secessionist activities and to dismantle the ecosystem of anti-national elements and terror networks hostile to India’s sovereignty” [emphasis added]. Individuals and organizations that have sought to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms in IAK, or otherwise dissented in IAK, have been criminalized by Indian authorities as secessionist and anti-national. The Indian state claims that the situation in IAK is “normal” (rather than the reality of repression and ongoing grave violations) and that IAK as an “integral part of India” (rather than the reality of occupied territory).  This rhetorical approach facilitates the Indian state’s use of counter-terror and public safety laws to persecute and further its violations with impunity in IAK by transforming its own criminality into law and the rightful resistance of Kashmiris into criminal activity.

Retrieving state land

The JKA also has intensified an ongoing campaign of mass property expropriation in IAK on the pretext of retrieving, or “recovering” state land.

On 9 January 2023, the Commissioner Secretary to the Government, Revenue Department, Vijay Kumar Bidhuri (IAS) issued a circular ordering Deputy Commissioners to remove all “encroachments” on “state land,” including “Roshni land” (state land sold to private owners under a 2001 law) and “khacharie” (grazing) land (made available to small landowners through longstanding law and policy) by 31 January  2023. On 20 January 2023, the Supreme Court of India refused to issue a stay of the circular’s enforcement and on 31 January 2023, dismissed related petitions. While these efforts are described by Indian authorities as an “anti-corruption” effort targeting the powerful and politically connected, they are largely the mass expropriation of vested private property owned by small landowners. The January 2023 order is the continuation and expansion of efforts to expropriate land, dispossess and disempower the local population and radically transform land ownership in IAK undertaken by Indian authorities since August 2019.

On 18 January 2023, 300 kanals of purported “state” land were expropriated in Kupwara, Baramulla, Shopian, and Budgam. (1 kanal is the equivalent of 0.125 acres or 0.05 hectares and a substantial amount of land in IAK.) On 19 January 2023, over 2,300 kanals of purported “state” land was expropriated in Bandipora and Ganderbal. According to one list, even the United Nations Military Observers Group office in Srinagar is listed as being on “state land” and, presumably, subject to expropriation in the current “anti-encroachment” drives.

Estimates indicate that over 60% of state land in the Anantnag District is currently occupied for a variety of reasons, including schools, government offices, and agriculture. Indian officials have accelerated the acquisition drive and indicated they will continue until all “state” land is “retrieved.”

New land-grant rules

On 13 December 2022, the JKA mandated that all lessees of government-owned land surrender their leased property to the occupation authorities or face eviction. Historically, the Jammu and Kashmir state furnished long-term leases to agricultural and commercial enterprises. All lease-holding parties had expected the leases to be renewed upon expiry, as usual. However, the administration’s annulment of these leases has resulted in dispossession and severe disruption of Kashmiri livelihoods.

In 2019, the administration had refused to renew traditional land leases. Instead, the Indian administration has mandated the reversion of the land to the state so that the state can auction the associated land rights online.

This represents a substantial and socio-economically significant change to land policies. Business owners, particularly in the tourist industry, face expropriation of their infrastructure and the shutting down of their businesses, as most tourist facilities are built on leased land. Many educational institutions also operate on leased land and are likely to be affected. The new rules could cause ownership change in significant portions of IAK, including all of Gulmarg and parts of Srinagar, Pahalgam, and Patnitop.

The land could now be leased to outsiders. In keeping with recent JKA practice, the expectation among Kashmiris is that a purpose of the new rules is to give land interests to Indian Hindus, particularly those allied with the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Junata Party (BJP).

Concluding observations

The Indian dispossession, population transfer, demographic manipulation and colonization processes in Kashmir are not unique. Recent literature has observed the connection to both the state-sanctioned razing of Muslim homes in India, as well as the analogy with the practices of Israel—India’s strategic ally—throughout Palestine. The Israeli tactics adopted by India range from material persecution of indigenous claimants of self-determination rights, redeeming/retrieving ‘state lands’ outside the occupiers jurisdiction, and the use of secret evidence in courts of the occupying power. Notably, such gratuitously punitive practice includes withholding corpses of Kashmiri civilians whom Indian forces extrajudicially killed and labeled as “terrorists” (begun in April 2020 under the pretext of COVID-19), and/or burying victims secretly in far-off places.

The sharing of strategies and tools of religious nationalist regimes argues for solidarity and collaboration among occupied peoples for a principled and law-based remedy to such common forms of deprivation, including full reparation of victims.


For further reference on HLRN, see:


Kashmir: Indian Land Law Dispossesses Locals, 16 December 2022

Pakistan: Mixed Mitigation Governance Record, 27 August 2022

Anti-Muslim India Gov’t. Razes Homes, 13 June 2022

Kashmir Land Case: ‘Property a Constitutional Right’, 03 January 2022

India Uses Israeli Silencing Tactic in Kashmir, 25 November 2021

Kashmiris Evicted amid anti-Muslim Crackdown, 31 December 2020

India Govt. Reverses Kashmir Land Reform, 28 October 2020


Violation Database entries:

Usman Gulzar Wani home, 10/01/2023

Multiple JeI properties, 07/01/2023

19 properties, 24/12/2022

Khushipora, Shalateng, 19/12/2022

More JeI properties, 16/12/2022

Ashiq Nengroo Home, 10/12/2022

JeI properties, 27/11/2022

Shabir Shah Home, 10/11/2022

Gujjar & Bakarwal Forest, 17/11/2020

Security Forces Loot, Burn, 20/05/2020

Nawakadal, 19/05/2020

Beighpora Families, 11/05/2020

1st Half of 2020, 01/01/2020

Land Grab, Disempowerment, 11/08/2019

Still Displaced after 4-year Ceasefire, 01/01/1999


The Kashmir Law and Justice Project, Kashmir Scholars Consultative and Action Network, and Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide provided research in the preparation of this article.

Related Resources: Further recent background resources on these complex issues can be found here and here. A broader list of state land subject to retrieval is linked here.


Photo: Indian authority’s notice of land “retrieved” as “state land” in occupied Jammu & Kashmir, 19 January 2023. Source: Kashmir Observer.


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