While the rest of the country celebrated , the people of Kashmir, whose life was to change, hopefully for the better, after the President signed the bills to end the special status and political autonomy of the state and divide it into two Union territories, were confined to their home.
Many of them may not have instantly known the changes in their land and lives as the Kashmir Valley was under clampdown: section 144 imposed, internet and phones and even television channels shut for two days of debate in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
However, the objectionable part of the ongoing exercise to effect massive changes in the frontier State is the methodology and its likely repetition in other parts of the country.
A day before Home Minister Amit Shah presented the four key Bills on changing the course of events in J&K, a total clampdown on internet, telephones and the movement of citizens was imposed in Kashmir. Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were interned in their homes and not allowed to move out. On the day Rajya Sabha passed the bills, no phone calls were getting through to Kashmir and even Jammu. The people of Kashmir had no knowledge that the Parliament was in the middle of taking decisions that had bearing on their lives.
For most of them, it appeared the whole country was pitted against them; they were bogged down in a feeling of being the unwanted ones while a major decision about their fate was being taken. This has left a huge trust deficit between Delhi and Kashmir and may be difficult to end in coming days. Why were Kashmiris not made part of the process even if the possibility of violence was had existed?
Keeping the people of Kashmir under a curfew and information blockade has sent out a scary message for the future of our democracy.
As a ‘state subject’ of Jammu and Kashmir, did I enjoy many privileges that were conferred by the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the rest of the Indian didn’t?
Honestly, I never experienced these ‘privileges’ and, on the contrary, being a woman, had to face a good deal of discrimination. At the time of making my Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) – a document that was required for getting admission into professional colleges, jobs and buying or inheriting of property etc – the magistrate put a seal on my document “Valid till marriage.” The marking was put only on certificates of women ‘subjects’ while a man’s certificate had no expiry date.
I have lived with this discrimination and humiliation in J&K for long.
In practice it meant that while Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s British wife and his son’s estranged wife from Haryana would automatically become “citizens” of J&K, I stood to lose my status as the daughter of the soil on marrying an outsider. I did marry an ‘outsider’ and lost my ‘state subject’ status.
Now, mind you, it’s not only the cases of a few ‘liberal’ women like me marrying outsiders, others like divorcees, widows, separated wives, single daughters who has to inherit the property and even women wanting to continue their studies after marrying outsiders, who were affected.
In the meanwhile, a bunch of petitions by women challenging this misogyny came before the Supreme Court – in 2003, it ruled in favour of women like me. The apex court came down heavily against the J&K government for this discriminatory clause and asked it to end it.
The political leadership remained in denial and the Government took its own time to react and finally tweak the law to allow a woman like me to inherit or buy a property in J&K as wife of an ‘outsider’ (Read Indian) with a caveat. I could not pass on this property to my children: inheritance had to end at one generation.
Misogyny and discrimination continued because Article 35A of the Constitution gave arbitrary powers to the State Legislature to fix the criterion for ‘state subject.’ The male-dominated polity and a few women leaders, who were co-opted in the system by instilling in them the fear that such marriages would change the Muslim majority character of J&K, remained intolerant to women’s freedom and rights.
Because of the special status and the politics around it, no major companies from outside set their shops in my state – there were no major educational institutes of repute or professional colleges beyond the government controlled ones.
I and my peers had to go to other states for education and jobs. Being a Hindu, I grew up with an idea that I have to leave J&K for studies and job since the whole system of education and government jobs is biased against me.
The saying in the families of Kashmiri Pandits who had to ultimately flee for their lives as terrorism and social unrest took over the Valley, was that “always keep one leg outside.” (Meaning one should keep one’s option of leaving Kashmiri for livelihood open).
The State flag left me cold as I hadn’t heard any motivating and inspiring story about it. It looked like the flag of National Conference, a party that re-christened itself from being founded as Muslim Conference but couldn’t change its pro-Muslim priorities.
The State Constitutions was no different from the Indian Constitution and the the only way penal code was different was in nomenclature: instead of booking people under the Indian Penal Code, in J&K they would be booked under the Ranbir Penal Code(RPC).
Yes, the privileges were indeed enjoyed by a few – the ruling elite. Just to give readers an idea of how they usurped the privileges, during emergency the tenures of all State Legislatures and Lok Sabha were extended to six years.
The J&K legislature was quick to follow the practice. However, after the emergency was revoked and the Lok Sabha and the Legislatures went back to five-year tenure, the J&K legislators didn’t change the rule. An extra year’s pay cheque and plethora of other perks that come with being an MLA from a state exchequer that does not have enough revenue to pay the salaries of employees, didn’t prick their conscience.
As a result, while the General and State elections are held every five years, in J&K elections came after six years. How am I benefitted in this?
The culture of ‘special privileges’ for a few had percolated on political and social levels. The most privileged formed an elite club and suppressed the common masses. The Kashmiri Sunnis would try to suppress Shias, Gujars and Bakerwals; Kashmiri leadership dominated the scene and alternately used secularism and communalism in different situations to seek votes. The Ladakhis were the first to raise a banner of revolt against this and other discriminations. Jammu has been seething with anger at the domination of Kashmiris.
With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having pulled off a major coup in the Parliament by scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and dividing the state into two union territories – Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, all this has changed.
To be fair to the saffron party, from mid-fifties, its election manifestoes have mentioned removal of the controversial Article as urgency. So, when Narendra Modi won a landslide victory, a second time, the time was right for fulfilling its long-standing promise. The action was extremely bold and well planned except for one party – the role of people of Kashmir.