J&K: State of discontent and despair
It was on December 1 that BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Mr Narendra Modi demanded a holistic debate on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to find if it had benefitted the people of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) or jeopardised their general political and economic rights and interests. He made this reasonable suggestion at the historic “Lalkar Rally” in the City of Temples, Jammu, and held out a solemn commitment that if the protagonists of Article 370 proved that it had helped the people regenerate their socio-cultural and politico-economic life, the BJP will give up its age-old demand seeking its abrogation.
Ever since then, the fake secular outfits like Congress, Janata Dal – United (JDU), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M), Samajwadi Party (SP), Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and so on have been making common cause with the Kashmir-based pro-autonomy National Conference (NC) and pro-self-rule People’s Democratic Party (PDP) charging Modi of dividing the society on communal lines for vote-bank politics. They have been saying that the suggestion of Modi, if conceded, would endanger national unity and undermine “secular” polity. Besides, they have been asserting and reasserting that Article 370 has greatly benefitted the people of J&K and its abrogation would further “alienate” them from the national mainstream.
The assertion of the “secular” outfits that Article 370 has benefitted the people of J&K is as misleading and ridiculous as it is communally-motivated. The fact is that it has only accorded a dangerous legitimacy to the politics of secessionism in the Valley and created widespread disappointment and dissatisfaction among all social groups, except in a limited circle of the Valley-based Kashmiri-speaking ethnic Sunnis.
For Example, the miserable plight of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), refugees from West Pakistan, daughters of J&K, internally-displaced Kashmiri Hindus, Sikhs and Shiite Muslims. In J&K, the SCs are entitled to only 8 per cent reservation in government services and educational and technical institutions, as against 15 per cent reservation their counterparts get in the rest of the country. They have been struggling since long to achieve parity with their counterparts, but with no result. The STs are entitled to political reservation throughout the country, barring J&K. They have been carrying on a relentless struggle since April 1991 to achieve their legitimate demand, but with no result. They constitute the third largest social group after the Dogras of Jammu province and Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis. The OBCs are entitled to 27 per cent reservation in the vital service sector and educational and professional institutions across the country, barring J&K. The OBCs in J&K do not get even one per cent reservation in any sector. According to one estimate, the OBCs constitute nearly 20 per cent of the State’s population.
Jammu province houses more than one lakh refugees from West Pakistan. They migrated in 1947 in the wake of the communal partition of India to escape the wrath of the ardent believers in the concept of two-nation. They have been doing all that they could to obtain citizenship rights so that they could also lead a dignified life as Indian citizens, but nothing has come out of their relentless struggle. Even the Supreme Court of India politely disposed of their petition in 1987 seeking directions to the J&K Government and Government of India to grant citizenship rights to them. Ever since then, they have been making passionate pleas to the powers-that-be in the State and at the Centre to treat them like all other Indians, but all of their efforts have gone down the drain.
Daughter of J&K did achieve a partial victory in 2005, when the two-Judge bench of the J&K High Court upheld the PIL in their favour and directed the J&K Government not to make any endorsement of “Valid Till Marriage” on the State Subject Certificates to be issued to the daughters of the State. But their demand that the children of the daughters of the State married outside the State to non-State Subjects and their spouses be given property and residency rights in the State has not been considered by the authorities. The matter is pending before J&K High Court since long. The State Subject laws make invidious and humiliating distinctions between the daughters of J&K married outside and their children but make no distinction between them if the daughters of the state are married within the state to the so-called State Subjects.
Kashmiri Hindus, who migrated from the Valley in early 1990 to escape their physical liquidation and save their religion, culture and honour at the hands of the secessionists and fanatics, continue to suffer even after 24 years of their forced exodus. Bulk of them wants to go back to their land of Vitasat (Jhelum), but they cannot because the situation in the Valley has not improved even slightly since then. In fact, it has worsened. As a result, they are chaffing and seething with anger. They have come to believe that bifurcation of the Valley and creation of a separate homeland for them within the Valley invested with Union Territory status is the only permanent solution to their problem.
As for the Shiite Muslims in Kashmir, they are conspicuous by their absence in the service sector, in administration and in political establishment and financial institutions. Their population is almost one million, but they have little or no say in the system of governance. Sikhs, who constitute four per cent of the state’s population, are fighting for their survival in Kashmir, as an insidious campaign has been launched by Islamist forces in the valley to terrorise the minority community so that it converts to Islam or migrate. The community leaders are holding a section of the Muslim clergy for starting the “process of conversion” and asking it to stop it, “failing which the situation may get out of their hands”. They are alleging that many Sikh girls have eloped and “some have been kidnapped and later converted to other religion”. “But the minorities won’t tolerate religious aggression. And any attempts at conversion by offering inducements like money, job or admission in charity institutions would be opposed strongly”, they have also been saying.
The people of Jammu province, who constitute half of the state’s population and occupy land area two times that of Kashmir, are the most neglected lot. The Valley’s ruling elite perpetrate injustice after injustice on them on a daily basis. Sadly, even the Congress, which has been enjoying the loaves and fishes of office since 2002 without any break because of the support of the people of Jammu province, take them for a ride and plays the games of its Kashmiri masters to keep them and the Congress high command in good humour. The fact of the matter is that the Valley’s ruling elite and the Congress — whose core constituency is Jammu — dismiss as “communal and anti-Kashmir” the demand of the people for socio-economic and political empowerment. Some even describe this demand as “anti-national” and threaten that their demand, if accepted, will “hurt the Kashmiri psyche”. The story of Ladakh is no different. The people of Ladakh, like the people of Jammu, have been repeatedly saying that reorganisation of J&K is the only panacea available to them to end their over 65-year-long night of discontent and despair.
The common refrain of all these neglected social groups and communities is that the Kashmiri ruling elite has been misusing Article 370 to the hilt to harm their legitimate rights and interests and they are absolutely right. Remember, these neglected and marginalised groups constitute more than 78 per cent of the State’s whole population. Indeed, Article 370 is the root cause of all the problems confronting the people of the State. Will the protagonists of Article 370 look all this in the face and refashion their approach towards the atrocious Article 370?
(The writer is former Dean, Faculty of Social Scienes, University of Jammu)
National Conference MLA from Kishtwar, Sajjad Kichloo, who was removed following communal riots in Kishtwar some time back, was re-inducted as Minister of State for Home in Omar Abdullah’s Government on December 22. Governor Narender Nath Vohra administered him the oath of office and secrecy. Kichloo’s induction was recommended by Chief Minister Abdullah immediately after receiving an interim report from the One-man Commission of Inquiry on December 20. A former judge of Jammu & Kashmir High Court, RC Gandhi is holding an enquiry into the communal riots of Kishtwar. Three men had died and scores had sustained injuries when the unruly crowds attacked vehicles and torched properties on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr on August 9, this year.
Facing allegations of instigating violence against minority Hindus, Kichloo had resigned on August 12. Members of the minority community had then claimed that a crowd of the majority community looted a large number of 12 bore rifles from Chenab Gun House at Kichloo’s instance. The commercial complex ransacked by the mob belonged to the Kichloos. Well-placed sources said that a senior government functionary “requested” Justice Gandhi to submit an interim report of his findings to the government even if he needed more time to come up with the final report. On the same day in the evening, the interim report was delivered on Secretary General Administration Department.
The National Conference’s Core Group comprising Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and six of his Cabinet Ministers—Abdul Rahim Rather, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, Mian Altaf Ahmad, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Ajay Sadhotra— had expressed concern over what they called “NC’s total vacuum in Chenab valley”. The speakers pointed out that the Congress had been strengthening its base and “monopoly” in Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban districts with the NC’s “zero presence”. Kichloo happens to be the only MLA of the NC from the three districts—a stronghold of the Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.