A year after scrapping of Article 370, Jammuites question move as new Domicile Law fans fears of job loss, education seats

Protest in Bangalore ( Image: news18)

By Ayushi Malik, TwoCircles.net

Jammu: A year after Government of India abrogated Article 370 and touted it as a step towards “full integration” of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir with India, Hindu-majority Jammu, which had earlier welcomed the decision, has started questioning the rationale behind the controversial move.

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August 5, 2020, marks the first anniversary of abrogation of Article 370, the stripping the former state of its special status and bifurcating it into two union territories J&K and Ladakh.

People in the Hindu majority Jammu region, who had earlier welcomed the abrogation of Article 370, have started to voice their concerns over the new Domicile law passed by the government of India in April, which opens provisions of residency and employment for the people from outside the UT.

The controversial move on August 5 last year was followed by mass arrests, protests, complete communication blockade in the Valley, while the move was celebrated on the streets of Jammu despite internet shutdown.

A year later, people in Jammu have started expressing concerns over the motives of BJP government’s move with no new job opportunities created and the continued internet blockade amid the pandemic. On July 24, an English language newspaper Early Times reported that, “Angry Jammuites not ready to join BJP in celebrating abrogation of Art 370, 35-A”. The report claimed that Jammuites are expressing their anger on social media over the incompetence of the administration.

Vikramjeet Manhas, a resident of Jammu told the Two Circles that he regrets voting for BJP. “In hopes of ending the discrimination with the Jammu, I had voted for BJP thinking they would work towards development and employment as promised. But with the new Domicile order, the youth will lose both jobs and education seats to the outsiders.”

The order redefining the domiciles of Jammu and Kashmir was issued in April 2020. Under the law, anyone who has resided for 15 years in the newly formed UT of J&K or has studied for seven years and has appeared in 10th or 12th board exams from an educational institution of the erstwhile state will now be considered as domiciles

“Why should we (youth in Jammu) suffer at the hands of Kashmir?” Manhas said on the continued internet restrictions in the region.

“After seeing the SR0 202, J&K Bank jobs scam, no new job opportunities, installation of toll plazas and the new domicile law, because of which we will lose jobs and educational seats, I regret voting for BJP”, he adds.

Rise in atrocities against Dalits 

Speaking on the increased attacks on Dalits over land disputes, Satish Vidrohi, President Ambedkar Yuva Sangathan, talks about the recent killing of a 26-year-old man Rahul Bhagat in Dandyal village of Jammu’s Udhampur district. According to reports, Bhagat was hacked to death in broad daylight on July 2, after he had filed a case in court over the illegal occupation of his land. “Post Article 370, land disputes are the major reason for atrocities over Dalits. We are on the verge of losing whatever piece of land we own after Land Reforms in J&K.”

“This is not the first case. Similar incidents have happened in RS Pura and Manwal village where a youth was beaten up over similar issue and police has always sided with the culprits in covering up these cases and now that people from outside are settling in, we fear hate crimes against Dalits will witness a sharp rise”, he adds.

Advocate Ashok Basotra, while speaking to TwoCircles.net, alleged that police had refused to file FIR before the case received media attention, which caused people to question police’s involvement in the matter.

With the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, has been extended to Jammu and Kashmir and the Ranbir Penal Code has been replaced by Indian Penal Code (IPC). Earlier there was no parallel law for addressing caste-based issues.

Basotra stated that the marginalized Dalits community is being exploited both physically and economically by the RSS and BJP to maintain the hegemony of Upper Caste in the governing positions. According to the 2011 census, the Scheduled Caste (SC) population in J&K is 92, 4991 forming 8% and Scheduled Tribes (ST) forming around 11.91% of the total population of the former state. SC’s government jobs representation is from 2 to 2.5% as per the data collected and the rest of the population is working as labourers, sweepers and working class in the Industries.

“The marginalized communities of SC/ST and OBC are facing the representational threat due to new domicile with outsiders applying for jobs here and have been no increase in the reservation to 15% and 27% for ST and OBCs respectively as is stated for UTs.”

Implementation of the Forest Right Act

The tribal communities in J&K are yet to seek the protection under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (aka the Forest Rights Act) applied in the erstwhile state since August 5, 2019.

Gujjar Leader Nazakat Khattana, while speaking to TwoCircles.net said, “The government had promised tribal communities that after the scrapping of Article 370, FRA would be implemented giving us protection against forced displacements and other rights like grazing rights, access to water and forest resources (except timer). Even after a year, we see no provisions made to give our people relief.”

FRA was passed by the Indian Parliament on 18 December 2006 which gave Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers rights on forest land and its resources except in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to the 2011 census, tribal communities in UT of J&K, which include Gujjar, Bakerwal, Sippi and Shin/Dard, constitute more than 10 % of the total population and Gujjar-Bakerwal together comprise 90 % of the total tribal population in UT.

Bashir Ahmed, a local activist told TwoCircles.net, “The Gujjar-Bakerwal community has suffered the most due to militancy and families fleeing from north of Doda seeking shelter in Jammu are targeted here selectively by the government by demolishing their houses illegally”, he said while referring to the recent demolition incidents on grounds of encroachment in Sidhra and Bandi areas of Jammu city. “One of the families whose hut was demolished had fled from Doda after 6 of the family members were killed by militants there. Is this how we treat our citizens? Don’t they have the same rights as any other community?” asked Ahmed.

Khattana alleges that the government is targeting Gujjars because of being Muslim and questions why they weren’t given the legal time period to vacate the land before demolishing their huts. “The notice to vacate the land was issued after the demolition on 18 July.”

“We, the Gujjar-Bakerwal community played a major role in Operation Sarp Vinash in Kaka Hills in Doda region and this is how they treat the patriotic people of their country. We only demand the implementation of the Forest Right Act and proper mobile school facilities to educate our children” Khattana added. “The world is going through a pandemic with education shifting to digital. Our children can’t even afford mobile phones. We only request the government to provide proper infrastructure for mobile schools for our kids.”

Can’t go to war with own people

Days before the first anniversary of the scrapping of the special status of J&K, on 27 July, an organization of the Kashmiri Pandits Reconciliation, Relief and Rehabilitation headed by Satish Mahaldar called for the restoration of the statehood for the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We demand immediate restoration of statehood and special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian Constitution ensures the right to equality that extends to individuals, communities, religions, regions, and all social and political institutions. The right to equality ensures non-discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, region, or any other social and political sub-categories. One can’t have a military solution to a political situation and can’t go to war with their own people,” said Satish Mahaldar, chairman of migrant Kashmiri Pandits organization called Reconciliation, Relief, and Rehabilitation in a statement on 27 July.

Talking to TwoCircles.net, Mahaldar said, “We are seeking to protect the interests and economic interests of the minority community and to deal with the disturbed law and order in the region.”

However, on 30 July, other Kashmiri Pandit organizations – Roots in Kashmir, Jammu Kashmir Vichar Manch (JKVM) and the apex body of many Kashmiri Pandits organizations All India Kashmir Samaj (AIKS) issued a joint press note slamming Mahaldar’s demands by stating, “We condemn the recent statement by the Hurriyat backed Relief & Rehabilitation Committee that gives a false impression that Kashmiri Pandits are against the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state and the creation of the two Union Territories.”

Mahaldar questions the BJP’s claims of investment in the region by stating that in 2018-19 the budget of J&K was 47,314 crores and now in 2020 it has been reduced to 30,757 crores. “We are asking for special provisions to be made to safeguard the aspirations of the minorities and empowerment of the people of the region with better educational, medical, roads and internet connectivity facilities,” he said.

Separate statehood for Jammu

A Jammu based group Dogra Sadar Sabha has been demanding separate statehood for Jammu but its leaders said that their demands have not been met.

Speaking to TwoCircles.net, Gulchain Singh Charak of Dogra Sadar Sabha said, “We had welcomed the decision of abrogation of Article 370 thinking they would work for the demands of Dogras but they have failed miserably. We are not at all satisfied with the functioning of this government.”

Charak said that earlier even Ladakh had welcomed the unilateral decision but even now they (people of Ladakh) are seeking the safeguarding of their rights.

Dogra Hindus, who form the bulk of BJP’s support base in the region, are distressed with the new Domicile Law, which gives land and job rights to outsiders. On June 26, Navin Kumar Chaudhary, a senior IAS officer became the first bureaucrat, among 25,000 “non-residents”, who were granted a domicile certificate. According to reports, around 33,000 domicile applications were received for the 10 districts in Jammu and only 720 applications for Kashmir.

Speaking on the aspirations and demands of the Dogra youth Charak said, “No work has been done for the development in the Jammu region and the lack of employment opportunities is only hurting the trust of the Dogras. We demand that 80% of the jobs should be reserved for the locals while 20% for outsiders.”

Students cry for help

As the whole world has shifted to digital mode of imparting and gaining education, the internet blockade and slow speed 2G mobile internet services have hindered the access to essential services in J&K. The restrictions on the internet in the region has adversely affected the education of children and work from home phenomenon being practised around the world amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A student leader Ilahi Khan at Jammu University said that the students have suffered the most at the hands of administration due to lack of proper internet facilities. “Internet, which is our basic right has been snatched from us. How are we supposed to study online amid the ongoing pandemic? E-learning orders are issued by the administration while paying no attention to more than half the population who can’t avail this service,” he said.

Khan said that students are depressed over poor decisions like J&K exam scam, SRO 202 by the administration. “They are putting our future at risk, stating the maximum qualification for Grade IV jobs is 12th class. It is against the interests of all students. We have tried to make our voices heard but in vain.”

Speaking on the issue of conducting online or offline exams, Khan said that students have been demanding mass promotion as the internet blockade hinders the conduction of online exams. “At the same time, the students are against the conduction of offline exams in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

Khan claims that there has been no clear guideline from the University on how they plan to tackle this issue which is causing stress among the student community.