Jammu: The Valmikis living in Jammu and Kashmir are among the worst victims of human rights violations in the state. Their discrimination, however, has been justified by a provision in the Indian constitution – which violate their fundamental rights.
Though Articles 35A and 370 are under discussion and their constitutional validity is being verified by the Supreme Court, it is essential to highlight the plight of the Valmikis, who for over six decades have been discriminated against only because they are not ‘permanent residents.’
Valmikis are essentially Dalits. Historically, they have faced widespread oppression and repression from other castes. They have often been victims of caste-based violence. Some claim that they are the descendants of hermit Valmiki who wrote the epic Ramayana.
How did Valmikis make their way into J&K?
In 1957, there was a major sanitation crisis in Jammu city. The local sweepers’ union went on an indefinite strike demanding regularisation of their jobs and a salary hike. The protest continued for months, resulting in the stagnation of municipal work in the state – which led to several cities becoming garbage dumps.
The state government led by ‘Prime Minister’ Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad then took the decision to bring in safai karamcharis (sweepers) from other states.
The then health secretary of Jammu and Kashmir facilitated the negotiations with the Punjab government, and Valmikis were invited to the state specifically to be employed as sweepers. The number of families that migrated to Jammu at that time differs in records but ranges between 206 and 272. The government arranged for free transportation and a special permit to allow them entry into the state. These tasks were undertaken by the health officer of Jammu municipality.
The Valmikis were also allotted land for the construction of houses and some were given residential accommodation in different areas of Jammu city.
These Valmikis were promised rehabilitation in the state, saying that the ‘permanent resident’ clause would be relaxed for them. They were also promised government jobs for their children and the first generation of the community was given free housing, ration cards, civic amenities and regular jobs in the municipality as sweepers.
Since the men and women who were invited from Gurdaspur and Amritsar to work in Jammu municipality were not permanent residents of the state, modifications were made in the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Service Regulations to accommodate them. The mandatory condition of obtaining a permanent residence certificate (PRC) was relaxed for them.
These families thus left their homes in Punjab to settle in Jammu only because of the promise that they would have the same rights as others and that they would be granted a ‘permanent resident’ status.
Discrimination against Valmikis
While relaxing the PRC condition for Valmikis, a clause was inserted in the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Service Regulations that clarified that the rules were relaxed only to the point of the community members getting appointed as safai karamcharis.
Though that was not an issue for the first generation of Valmikis, who were happy to get regular jobs and accommodation, the newer generation was unable to venture into other fields as they could not prove their domicile.
They could not take admission in professional courses for post-graduation since state universities in Jammu and Kashmir demand a PRC. While they can study up to graduation, that only qualifies them for the position of a sweeper. Moreover, the Valmikis working in the municipal corporation were not entitled to promotions since they were eligible only to work as safai karamcharis. So, even if they managed to acquire additional qualification or decades of experience, they could only remain sweepers.
Even though Valmikis belong to the Scheduled Caste (SC), not being permanent residents of the state, they were not issued SC certificates in Jammu and Kashmir, depriving them of Central government schemes and policies to which they are entitled.
Apart from facing discrimination in higher education and government jobs, the Valmikis have also been disfavoured when it comes to residential rights. The colonies that were allotted to the Valmiki families when they were brought to the state have not been regularised till date. There are 13 such localities in different areas of Jammu – like Gandhi Nagar, Valmiki Colony, Bakshi Nagar – which have not been regularised, even though the vice-chairman of Jammu Development Authority has recommended the same.
An endless cycle of poverty
Along with crisis facing the young generation of Valmikis, who do not know which place they belong to, there is a vicious cycle which forces every generation of community to become sweepers. With the low pay of the job, the heads of families are unable to educate their children in private institutions. Even if the children manage to graduate, the only state government job they are eligible for is that of a sweeper.
Being denied SC certificate puts them at a disadvantage and they cannot even obtain a loan in the state to pull themselves out of backwardness. Without residential rights to property, they have no collateral to mortgage. Even after living in Jammu and Kashmir for 62 years, the Valmikis do not have a right to vote in panchayat, municipality or state assembly elections.
The Valmikis are living below the poverty line and are being denied basic human rights because of the state’s discriminatory Article 35A. Even if they are qualified for higher positions in the J&K government, this caste-specific profession is imposed on them.
The youth belonging to the Valmiki samaaj is demotivated. While in the rest of the country, tales are heard of sons and daughters of safai karamcharis becoming doctors and engineers, the same is not possible for the ones living in Jammu and Kashmir.
Constitutional modifications that justify their discrimination
As per Article 35A, Jammu and Kashmir legislature has a right to decide who the ‘permanent residents’ of the state are. It enables the state assembly to give the rights and privileges – otherwise enjoyed by all citizens of the country – only to those who are granted the ‘permanent resident’ status.
These include the right to acquisition of property, right to public sector jobs, right to participate in the panchayat, municipalities and legislative assembly elections, right to take admission in government-run technical education institutions, state-sponsored scholarships and other public aid and welfare.
However, those who are not considered ‘permanent residents’ are denied these rights, allowing legally-sanctioned discrimination.
Article 35A also safeguards any law of the state from legal challenge that confers permanent residents with special rights and privileges. Section 8 of the Jammu and Kashmir constitution clearly states:
“Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this part shall derogate from the power of the state legislature to make any law defining the classes of persons who are, or shall be, permanent residents of the state”.
The rights being violated:
Article 15: Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
Article 16: Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.
Article 23: prohibits human trafficking, beggary and forced labour. (Yet, generations of Valmikis are being forced to remain sweepers despite being capable and qualified enough for higher posts.)
The politics of it
The Valmikis were brought into the state by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, who belonged to one of the state’s mainstream political parties – National Conference (NC). He was the ‘prime minister’ of Jammu and Kashmir for ten long years. Since then, NC has been in power in the state several times and yet, despite the state legislature having the right to decide who the permanent residents of the state are, such a status has never been granted to the Valmikis.
Neither the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nor the alliance partners of both the mainstream regional parties – BJP and Congress – have ever made any such attempts either. Since the Valmikis do not have a right to vote in the state assembly, they do not constitute a vote bank and are excluded entirely from state-level politics.
Looking at the larger picture, all political parties have a clear stand on Articles 35A and 370, with the BJP mentioning their abrogation in its manifesto and NC and PDP warning that tinkering with these Articles will damage Jammu and Kashmir’s relationship with India.
However, Congress is the one responsible for the constitutional modification that allowed the state to discriminate against Valmikis. On May 14, 1954, under the Congress regime, Article 35A was added to the constitution of India through a Presidential Order.
None of the political parties has since attempted to give the Valmikis their fundamental rights in the state. There is a good number of political parties – both regional and national – who thrive on politics revolving Dalits, yet their rhetoric gets muted when it comes to empowering the Valmikis in J&K.
While attempts are being made throughout the country for the welfare of SC, no such thing can be seen in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as the basic human rights of these Valmikis continue to be violated.
Pallavi Sareen is a journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir. She is the editor-in-chief of Straight Line and can be contacted at [email protected]