The debate on dilution of Article 370 and scrapping of Article 35A has skirted some important issues. People are not aware of the extent of violation of human and women’s rights that these laws forced on people who lived in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
Let’s take the example of Farooq Abdullah. He married a British citizen, who became a Kashmiri by virtue of 35A. His son, Omar Abdulla, by virtue of 35A a natural citizen of Kashmir, married a Hindu girl outside J&K and she became a citizen of Kashmir. His sister married a Hindu from Rajasthan, but she lost her citizenship of J&K, or her permanent resident (PR) status, which gives her certain rights.
She cannot will her property in the state to either her husband or her children. Her family loses the right to inheritance. After she passes away, it would go to the state exchequer.
Article 35A is also about the unseen orphans of Partition, who came to J&K at the invitation of the state government. These include the Gorkhas who stayed back after defending Kashmir as members of the Maharaja’s army and displaced persons from Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) and Chhamb in the Jammu district.
It is time to focus on these large, neglected sections of Indians. After the Partition in 1947, about 5,800 families, mostly Hindus and Sikhs, entered Jammu from West Punjab. Nearly 80 per cent of them are from SC/ST groups, living in utterly miserable conditions in Jammu. They were allowed to stay and were given ‘refugee’ status. They number around 300,000 now. After years of struggle, they can vote for the Lok Sabha elections, but not for the Assembly elections as they are not state subjects under article 35A of the J&K Constitution, a 50-page document that makes no mention of minorities and their rights or privileges.
They are not entitled to go to government schools and colleges, get jobs, buy land or do business! This is the fourth generation of these victims of 35A. Ironically, refugees from the same region who entered India from Punjab, went onto establish successful lives. Two of them, Manmohan Singh and I K Gujral, went onto becoming Prime Ministers.
There are refugees who trooped into Jammu & Kashmir from POJK. India has laid claim on this area by keeping 24 seats in the J&K Assembly. However, those who migrated from POJK after tribal incursions - mainly from Muzzafarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Bhimbar, Deva Balala and also from Gilgit-Baltistan - were not even given refugee status.
The state government has categorised them as Displaced Persons or DPs. Neither the central nor the state government has formally registered them. Some put their number at around a million. No claims for their properties have been given; not even the meagre ex-gratia has been allotted.
They have no support from any government, nor has the UN or any international human rights organisations cared for their cause over the last seven decades.
Likewise, around 200 Valimiki (SC) families were brought from Punjab to J&K in 1957 to be employed as sweepers and scavengers. They were assured that the permanent resident clause would be relaxed for them. Though their numbers have gone up manifold, the permanent resident clause has not been relaxed for them. It means even if they do a PhD, they can only take up the job of a sweeper. It is tragic that such a caste-specific profession has been imposed in secular India. Radhika Gill, who belongs to this category, is a champion state-level athlete, but was refused a civil services job and told she can only become a sweeper!
The sweeper of J&K can vote in Lok Sabha elections, but not in the state Assembly or municipality elections. Politically, they have been kept away from the state’s democratic process.
Even J&K citizens with full rights have not got justice. After the 1971 war, some areas of Chhamb were permanently handed over to Pakistan by India in 1972 as part of Shimla Agreement. People of about 46 to 48 villages of Chhamb were asked by the central government to vacate their homes and lands in 1972.
As per rough estimates, nearly 6,500 to 7,000 families were uprooted. Of these, around 4,600 families comprising of nearly 18,000 members were accommodated in relief camps while nearly 1,600 to 2,000 families were treated as non-camp DPs as they shifted to their relatives’ villages. They have yet to be compensated or provided alternative homes, which they deserved.
The case of Gorkha population of around 100,000 who became part of the Dogra King’s army 170 years back, is equally tragic. Article 35A has ensured that they are deprived of basic human rights. Like the others, they have no right to vote in local elections, nor can they avail of any welfare benefits.
A retired Army officer wrote a letter to the governor of Jammu Kashmir, complaining, “We are residing in Jammu and Kashmir right from the beginning of the Dogra Regime in 1846. The large population of people, whose beloved ones fought for the Jammu & Kashmir Maharaja, now live in the most inhuman conditions. After more than 70 years of independence, we are still denied the status of permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir and are victims of social and economic discrimination...”
Clearly, Articles 370 and 35A had dehumanised the lives of millions of Indian citizens. I can but hope that this small note will open the eyes of champions of these highly unjust provisions of the Indian Constitution.