Up to 25,000 people have been granted domicile certificates in Indian-administered Kashmir since May 18, raising fears of the beginning of demographic changes in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region.
The certificate, a sort of citizenship right, entitles a person to residency and government jobs in the region, which till last year was reserved only for the local population, reports Al-Jazeera.
Last year on August 5, when India revoked the semi-autonomous status of the region, it also scrapped the local special citizenship law, guaranteed under Article 35 (A) of the Indian constitution. The move has drawn parallel with the occupied West Bank.
On Friday, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said, "India should take all necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir."
"Restrictions on dissent, such as peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet weakens democracy," says a policy paper posted on his website.
'Kashmir becoming another Palestine'
"The decision to provide non-Kashmiri residents with a domicile certificate is certainly the beginning of the end. This is the beginning of Kashmir becoming another Palestine," Badar-Ul-Islam Sheikh, a 29-year-old resident of the main city of Srinagar, told Al Jazeera.
"It is sad. It is horrible. I fear that time will come that we will not even feel safe in our homes," he said. "We have been silenced."
According to a census conducted by India in 2011, out of 12.5 million total population, Muslims comprise 68.31 percent and Hindus 28.43 percent in Kashmir.
Article 35 (A) had barred outsiders, including Indian nationals from other states, from settling and claiming government jobs to maintain the demographic balance in the region, which has seen decades of armed rebellion against the Indian rule.
On Friday, a picture of the domicile certificate issued to Navin Kumar Choudhary, a bureaucrat originally from the Indian state of Bihar, went viral on social media.
In April this year, amid the coronavirus lockdown, the government notified domicile laws making an unspecified number of outsiders eligible for residency and jobs.
According to the new law, any person who has lived in the region for 15 years, or has studied in the region for seven years and passed his class 10 or class 12 examination is eligible for domicile certificate.
Also, children of Indian government employees who have served in the state for 10 years are eligible to settle and claim local residency rights. The law applies even if the children have never lived in Kashmir.
Out of 66, top bureaucrats serving in the region, 38 are outsiders belonging to other Indian states. Many other outsiders serve in various central government institutions like banks, post offices telecommunication facilities, security institutions, and universities.
'Disastrous' for the region
Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist based in Srinagar, said the move was "disastrous' for the whole region.
"It appears government is in some kind of hurry. Within weeks so many people applied," he told Al Jazeera.
Kashmiri politicians across the divide have said the revocation of special citizenship rights was aimed at reversing the Muslim majority character of the region, which is now directly ruled from New Delhi.