One day, rules will take them away from ‘beloved Kashmir’

By Faisal Ahmedm, IANS,

Srinagar : Her teachers rate Shazadi as an outstanding student. The girl studying in Class 4 speaks the Kashmiri language fluently. She wants to become a college teacher here when she grows up. But destiny – in the form of government rules – has already ordained that she never will.

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For, she is not a permanent resident of Jammu and Kashmir and was born to Bengali parents. Never mind that her family has lived in the valley for more than 20 years.

“She must complete her education and move out to West Bengal or any other state to fulfil her dreams,” said her father Qasim, 39, in a matter-of-fact way.

The family has an acute sense of belonging for Kashmir. Shazadi, fondly called Poonam, speaks Kashmiri, Urdu and Bengali.

Qasim has been running a small milk and sweetmeat shop in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. He has been through the worst period of his life braving the violence in the valley during the 1990s that even forced many locals to migrate out.

His wife, Sarwari, 32, has stood by her husband’s side, bearing and bringing up children and also lending a helping hand at her husband’s shop.

But her daughter’s dream will never be fulfilled here. As per permanent resident rules, no non-state subject can apply for a job in the state government or get selected for a professional course in any of the medical or engineering colleges here.

“Shazadi would never be normal if I told her the bitter truth now, but that is life. When she grows up she will know,” says Qasim.

Gopal Sharma, 61, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer who served as director general of the Jammu and Kashmir police for over five years, does not have the comfort and pleasure of Shazadi’s childlike ignorance.

An IPS officer of the 1972 batch, Sharma was allotted to the Jammu and Kashmir cadre that year and completed his entire service career here. He rose to the top job. Originally from Jaipur (Rajasthan), he retired last year and went home after a short central deputation.

“Believe me, I am a nobody in Jaipur. I have to jostle in crowds for every daily requirement, which I do not mind, but finding suddenly that I am a social non-entity pains at times,” Sharma told IANS at a marriage reception here that he had come to attend.

“Interestingly, now many locals in Jaipur say ‘doctor sahib’s brother is here’ when they see me because my brother is a doctor there,” Sharma said.

Sharma like Shazadi and hundreds of other people who are non-state subjects, though they have a deep sense of belonging for Jammu and Kashmir, must leave when their time comes.

“It is like being thrown into a vacuum after all the best years of your life have gone down serving the place,” said another retired senior bureaucrat belonging to Delhi.

A senior police officer who still has 18 years to go in the job here said: “When we get back home after serving for 30 years or more, we will find that most of our friends have either died or forgotten us. The family ties will have got broken or diluted.

“we will be left with our children who will be busy pursuing their careers in far off lands. One has to be very fortunate to have a spouse alive and around in such a trying hour.”

But Riyaz Ahmad, a senior advocate, explained the rationale behind the rules.

“The permanent resident rules originally enforced during the autocratic Dogra Maharaja’s rule are still in force here and for valid reasons. Kashmir’s accession to India is governed by Article 370 which gives a special status to Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

“Though the permanent resident rules are not part of the Article 370, yet they are very essential to protect the peculiar ethnic and religious realities of Kashmir.

“These rules are a protection against demographic change and many other problems the state could face in their absence.”

Rules, regulations, legal protection and regional complexities are fine, but how does Kashmir’s centuries-old tradition of hospitality and eclectic unison address problems of children like Shazadi or seniors like Gopal Sharma?

(F. Ahmed can be contacted at [email protected])