As we approach the first anniversary of the Abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir from Leh and Ladakh, Ground Report brings exclusive stories from the fringes on the year that has passed.
Wahid Bhat | Srinagar
Centre’s move to open up Jammu & Kashmir for settlement by outsiders is fuelling fears among the Valley. The new law has become a source of deep anxiety for residents who think that it is geared to bring about a demographic change. Jammu & Kashmir, according to Census 2011, has 68.3 per cent Muslim population, while Hindus constitute 30 per cent, Sikhs 2 per cent, and Buddhists, who mostly inhabit Ladakh, a little more than 1 per cent.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a notification on April 1 this year changing the decades-old domicile law of the region after it scrapped the controversial Article 370 and 35A. It now entitles anyone who has stayed in the region for 15 years to domicile status, 10 years for central government officials and their children, and seven years for high school students.
The new Domicile Rules states that any person living in Jammu and Kashmir for at least the last 15 years will now be considered as the original citizen of this union territory. According to the definition of the official gazette, “children of Central Government Officers, All India Service Officers, PSU Officers and Officers of Central Government Autonomous Institutions and Central Government Institutes who have spent a total of 10 years in Jammu and Kashmir or such children.”
On August 5 last year, the BJP led central government removed Section 370 and 35A from Jammu and Kashmir and abolished the special status there and bifurcated the state into two separate union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Since the removal of Article 370, an unusual security cordon was established in the state and Kashmir remains under curfew.
Recent news reports suggest that an IAS officer from Bihar including 25,000 other individuals have so far received the domicile certificates which allows entry of non-residents (defined by the now revoked Article 35A) into the state along with giving them access to the property and government jobs that were previously reserved for locals.
Concern among locals, political leaders criticise new law
The fears amongst locals regarding losing reservations for government jobs are further emboldened by the compromised schooling system in Kashmir on account of the longstanding conflict, according to the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) report. With government jobs now opening to other demographics, any competitive advantage the local youth may have had is likely gone. There is a fear among the youth in J&K that they will have an unfair disadvantage while competing with applicants from the rest of India as for the last three decades the education has been the worst hit with continuous strikes, agitation, violence, and militancy.
A shopkeeper from Srinagar, Muhammad Sultan (name changed) said on the new domicile rules that the new law will take away our entire identity from us and this will have a bad effect on the youth of Kashmir. Sultan said, “I see our future in the dark since the new domicile law has been passed. My work and my identity will not be saved. We have a special identity in the whole world. But, this identity will no longer remain.”
Hussian Khan, a political science student said that this was a joke with the youth of Jammu and Kashmir. He said, ‘I don’t know whether it will last or not and whether the people of Jammu and Kashmir will accept it or not. This will bring the political voices of Kashmir together.”
Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and National Conference leader has strongly criticized the Indian government on the new domicile laws through several tweets. Abdullah said, “Understand what is the situation with the new domicile laws, that even a new party has stood by the blessings of Delhi, whose leaders were lobbying in Delhi for this law. It has been forced to protest. “
Former Kashmir Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti has expressed concern through her tweet that the new domicile law is part of a demographic project that began with the removal of Section 370 on 5 August.
Jammu-based Congress leader, Ravinder Sharma, said: “When the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) removed Article 370 it promised that the rights and jobs of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be protected but now by bringing in new domicile laws New Delhi has again insulted the people of the region.”
Celebrations among refugees seeking shelter
While others express concern, there is a section in the UT that is happy with the decision. Labaram Gandhi, President of Western Pakistani Refugee, Jammu, said that this new law would benefit twenty-one thousand West Pakistani refugees. As per official figures of government, there are approximately 4 lakh west Pakistani refugees in J&K. These refugees are mainly Hindus and approximately 80 per cent of them belong to Schedule caste. They had migrated into J&K during 1947 from Sialkot. Despite being Indian citizens they were denied the permanent resident status of J&K and were not entitled to any rights and privileges as enjoyed by a permanent resident of J&K. The new domicile rule is a beacon of hope for them residing in parts of Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua, Akhnoor.
Gandhi said, “This is a very good step for us. The state government had not considered us as its population till now. Now our children will be able to get jobs, vote and they will get other benefits. Our children will get Prime Minister Scholarship and The other higher technical education schemes were not benefiting.”
Reported By Wahid Bhat, He is a Journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir.