Taking advantage of the global pandemic, on March 31, the Indian Union Home Ministry quietly amended the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019, and redefined permanent residents by introducing a policy of issuing domicile certificates.
The new domicile policy replaces the 1954 law which had empowered state governments to define “permanent residents” of occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and reserve certain rights and privileges. Till the promulgation of J&K Reorganization Act, the term permanent resident covered those who were state subjects of J&K in 1954 and their descendants. It also included those who had lived and owned land in J&K for at least 10 years in 1954. Various rights — such as the right to own land, have government jobs and get state scholarships — were only restricted to these permanent residents.
Now, according to the March 31 policy, “anyone who has resided for a period of 15 years in the Union Territory (UT) of J&K or has studied for a period of seven years and appeared in class 10th/12th examination in an educational institution located in the UT of J&K” is eligible for permanent residence status. The children of such individuals would also be counted as domiciles. The order expands the definition of permanent resident further, to include the “children of those Central government officials, All India Services officers, officials of PSUs [public sector units] and autonomous body of central government, public sector banks, officials of statutory bodies, officials of central universities and recognised research institutes of Central government who have served in Jammu and Kashmir for a total period of 10 years”.
The implications of the new policy are not difficult to gauge, particularly in the Muslim-majority occupied valley of Kashmir. Now, Indian nationals and their children residing in J&K are eligible for permanent residence which means they can apply for local jobs and scholarships. Earlier, the J&K Reorganization Act had ended the special status of J&K enabling Indian nationals to buy property and cast their vote in elections there. Now, the domicile policy has further curtailed the rights of Kashmir’s local population and will inundate the bureaucracy and semi-government bodies with non-locals. It doesn’t end here but the Home Ministry order also amended the Jammu and Kashmir Property Rights to Slum Dwellers Act. References to “permanent residents” were deleted from the law, making it easier for non-local slum dwellers to gain property rights in J&K.
Predictably, all Muslim Kashmiri leaders, regardless of their political affiliations, have rejected the policy of the Indian Home Ministry and termed it an attempt to transform the demographic status, particularly of Kashmir to the advantage of non-Muslims. Said Junaid Azim Mattoo, spokesperson for the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, which was once allied with the BJP, lamented that “the presidential order defining the domicile law issued at the depth of night while the world is under the grip of a deadly pandemic falls way short of expectations even for those who expected some relief, some reconciliation process,” and the order reflected the government’s “patience to script a disaster of its own. There seems to be a clear intent of conveying yet another serving of humiliation and insult to the people of J&K after what transpired on August 5. During the Covid-19 battle, the people of J&K didn’t deserve more humiliation.”
According to Hindustan Times, J&K Congress president Ghulam Ahmad stated that “this is an insult to the people of J&K. By this order the Centre has made lakhs of people eligible for jobs and other things which were reserved for the people of J&K.”
Since October 31, 2019, when the Union Territory of J&K came into force and the Indian flag replaced the flag of J&K from the Central Secretariat in Srinagar, the Indian state relegating its secular and democratic face exposed its real intentions by transforming the Muslim characteristic of Kashmir with the promulgation of the domicile policy.
Former chief minister of IOK and a key leader of National Conference Omer Abdullah termed the domicile act as humiliating, “adding insult to injury”. Lamenting that “at a time when all our efforts and attention should be focused on the #Covid outbreak, the government slips in a new domicile law for J&K.” The fate of petitions challenging the J&K Reorganization Act in the Indian Supreme Court is well known because the case has been lingering for the last eight months. Challenging the domicile act may end up with similar results.
For now, India may have been able to get away by ending J&K’s special status and enforcing other administrative measures to promote the influx of outsiders, but the BJP government cannot hold the land and the people for good because of two reasons. First, despite the lockdown in IOK since August 5, 2019, the Kashmiri Muslims have totally refused to accept ruthless, arbitrary and humiliating acts which tend to make them an insignificant minority in their own land. Replicating the model of Palestinian territories of Occupied West Bank by Israel, India hopes to completely absorb J&K through such arbitrary and brutal measures by grabbing land and establishing non-Muslim settlements. The Indian military can kill Burhan Wani and Riaz Naikoo on fake charges of terrorism but cannot liquidate the popular uprising of Muslim Kashmiris.
India has not been able to create a wedge among the Muslim population of J&K as their defiance against the occupation of the Indian military and constant lockdown tends to further weaken the position of the Hindu nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Second, despite its slow reaction against ending the special status in J&K, the world has refused to accept India’s unilateral measures since August 5, 2019, and severe human rights violations. The BJP government tried to kill two birds with one stone by taking advantage of the pandemic by silencing those protesting against the citizenship act of December 2019, which is fundamentally directed against its Muslim minority; and by further consolidating its occupation over J&K by imposing the domicile policy. Since the attention of the world is focused on the Covid pandemic, New Delhi thinks that this is the right time to neutralise all protests against the Indian citizenship act and J&K Reorganization Act.
What the BJP regime has failed to take cognisance of is that the pandemic will not remain forever and once it loses its intensity, the above-mentioned issues will resurface. But realistically speaking, despite the severe defiance of Kashmiri Muslims and opposition from Pakistan, the Modi regime has been able to implement J&K Reorganization Act and domicile policy. The growing confidence of New Delhi in seeking total control of J&K means that the resistance by Kashmiris is a stark reality as attention has been diverted because of the global pandemic. Yet, growing repression in the valley is further augmenting hatred against the occupation forces and brutal measures of New Delhi to forcibly change the demography by transforming the Muslim majority into a significant minority.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2020.
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