Throughout History, Demographic Changes to J&K Have Only Deepened Conflict

The domicile law denies peoples’ efforts for rights, recognition and justice its true place in history. It could possibly end up alienating residents further.

On August 5, 2019, the Narendra Modi government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and statehood, dividing it into two union territories. In this series – ‘One Year in a Disappeared State’ – The Wire will look at what the last year has meant and what the region looks like now.

The story of historical injustices in Jammu and Kashmir is a never-ending saga.

The most recent chapter to be appended to the series is the new J&K grant of domicile certificate procedure rules, 2020. Proposed amidst lockdown, the new domicile rules are another form of the NRC exercise for the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir who hold the permanent resident certificate (PRC).

All mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir including Apni Party, which is often perceived to be party representing the interests of the central government in Kashmir, has voiced opposition to the domicile law. Meanwhile, recent reports on the issuance of domicile certificates to over 25,000 individuals (non-locals) that would allow the entry of nonresidents – as per Article 35A – into the state have further precipitated chaos in the region.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The new law replaces ‘permanent resident’ (based on the 1927 notification) with ‘domicile,’ extending eligibility to persons who have resided in Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years, or have studied for a period of seven years, or appeared in Class 10 or Class 12 exams, and refugees from West Pakistan – mostly Hindus who have migrated from Pakistan – registered as migrants by the Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) Commission-Migrants. The law also includes punitive action in case the domicile certificate is not issued within a period of seven working days – a recovery of Rs 50,000 from the salary of the competent authority (tehsildar or R & R Commission-Migrants).

There is a famous Machiavellian quote: “Whoever wishes to foresee the future, must consult the past.” While changes are being made to erase Kashmir’s history, it is important to learn from the history of people’s struggle for recognition of their very existential citizenry rights in the region.

In the year 1886, Dogra ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh ‘bought’ the state for Rs 75 lakh from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar. The Dogra Ruler was a monarch of Jammu, he owned the proprietorship hereditarily. Once Kashmir was purchased by the Dogra monarchy, the proprietorship rights belonged to a Darbar consisting of closed relatives, courtiers, and top officials (mostly Kashmir Pandits).

Also read: J&K’s New Domicile Order: Disenfranchising Kashmiris, One Step at a Time

After a long period where the people struggled for full proprietary rights to Kashmir peasants, the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act passed in the year 1950 finally abolished the large chunk of jagirdars, including the Kashmiri Pandits who were the revenue officials in the darbar of Dogra monarchy. It transferred a large amount of land to the tillers. Later, the Agrarian Reforms Act, 1972 (later modified in the year 1976) provided proper ownership rights to the cultivators and abolished the system of absentee landlordism.

The years of a spate of people’s struggles for recognition of their rights also involved the demand for justice and recognition of the Muslim community in government jobs and education. They were finally recognised as ‘permanent residents’ under the notifications of 1927 and 1932. The rights and privileges (state government jobs, scholarships in education, and land ownership) under the two notifications were later conferred under the Delhi Agreement of 1952 (signed between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah). This, later provided a basis for provisions relating to the ‘permanent resident’ in the Jammu Kashmir constitution of 1956.

The definition of ‘permanent resident’ could be incorporated after a long process of efforts and struggles by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The fresh law denies the historical significance of peoples’ efforts for rights, recognition and justice and could possibly end up alienating the residents further.

The process of bringing the new domicile policy has been shrouded in secrecy without involving consultations with relevant stakeholders. There is angst among the critics and residents, who have compared the new domicile law with settlements in the Israeli occupied West Bank.

A Kashmiri woman walks past an Indian security personnel as he stands guard in front of closed shops during restrictions, after scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 22, 2019. Picture taken August 22, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

As per a recent report by the Indo Pak Conflict Monitor, the reading down of Article 370 has emboldened the longstanding conflict in the region and the situation of Kashmir’s security has gradually worsened, raising a question mark over the Union government’s non-consultative and hard-line Kashmir policy.

Also Read: J&K Govt’s New Domicile Certificate Rules a Move to Undercut Resistance from Kashmiri Officials?

The new domicile law is turning out to be another reason for conflict in the region. At present, there are over seven lakh migrant labourers residing in the Valley. There are an estimated six lakh security personnel deployed in Kashmir. As per recent reports, the government is opening up a 6,000-acre land bank to woo major corporate houses and traders to invest in the region.

The fresh law manifolds the fears of people of Jammu and Kashmir. They are already very small in number – around 12.5 million. It provides ample scope to ‘outsiders’ in terms of resources and jobs in the region.

There is a famous couplet by Muzaffar Razmi:

Wo daur bhi dekhe hain tareekh ki ankhon ne,
lamhon ne khata ki thi sadiyon ne saza payi.

‘History is witness to such times too
When moments made a mistake and centuries had to pay for it.’

In the year 1947, the region of Jammu was the first region to witness the most horrific episodes of violence during Partition, in which thousands of Muslims were massacred and others sent to West Punjab (later to form a part of Pakistan) by mobs and paramilitaries led by the army of then Dogra ruler Hari Singh. As per the August 10, 1948 report published in The Times, London, 2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra state.

The historians claim that the killings were carried out to change the demography in the region of Jammu as the Maharaja preferred to remain independent of the new dominions. This had been disputed by some of the Muslim groups in Jammu region. After the horrific months, the demography of Jammu was completely changed – Muslims who constituted more than 60% of the population of Jammu region, were reduced to a minority.

The violence in Jammu region became one of the major reasons of conflicts in Kashmir – the valley that had remained peaceful during the time of partition. An effort to change the demography of a region by the then Maharaja Hari Singh ignited violence that became a perpetual source of conflict in the region, even when the documents related to the Jammu massacre were mostly destroyed by the then Dogra monarch. Demographic changes have often pushed regions and their people to the brink.

When seen together, another question rises from the history of land conflict in the region of Jammu and Kashmir and the new domicile law: Whether the provision for mostly Hindu west Pakistan refugees in the new domicile law is indeed a humanitarian gesture or another partial step to appease a specific section of religion or community.

The new domicile law is another project aimed at creating homogeneity in the region, turning its residents (primarily Muslims), into a minority. It will further deepen the conflicts with demographic flooding of people based on scant documentary proof. The taking over of jobs, opportunities and resources from Kashmiris, quashing the legal rights and privileges after years of people’s struggle for justice, rights and recognition in the region, is certain to make things worse.

Without any wider consultation and proposed during the COVID-19 pandemic when the country is under lockdown, the domicile law has proven to be yet another blow to Indian democracy.

Also read: J&K: IAS Officer Becomes First Bureaucrat to Be Granted Domicile Rights

A Kashmiri poet Amir Wani wrote:

Main khamosh hoon, bezubaan nahi
Laraz uthoge tum, jab lab khulenge mere.”

One who remains quiet carries a thunderstorm within.

Shweta Tripathi has been working with the social sector for over 16 years.