By Brig Anil Gupta (Retd)*
I have often wondered as to why certain communities in Jammu region continue to remain in a state of despair and deprivation in an independent India. Why people belonging to a segment of the society are termed as “Indian citizens” but are deprived of all basic amenities of livelihood in the very state they reside in? Why in the era of social equality in the 21st century and after 70 years of independence they carry a tag of “refugee” or are permitted by law to only apply for the job of “Safai Karamcharis (sweepers)”?
In Jammu & Kashmir if your forefathers migrated from West Pakistan at the time of partition and were economically and socially backward or they migrated from Nepal to serve in the maharaja’s army or you belong to the 200-odd Valmiki families which were brought from the neighbouring state of Punjab in the late 1950s to be employed as safai karamcharis (street cleaners), you are certain to be discriminated against and humiliated due to the so-called ‘special status’ enjoyed by the state.
These infelicitous people have been enduring this neglect and contempt of the state in the hope that one day those in the corridors of power in Jammu & Kashmir will look beyond the myopic prism of regionalism and religion and consider their plight from a broader outlook as a “humanitarian issue.”
While the government of India is sympathetic to their cause and is taking measures to ameliorate their woes, nothing major can happen until they are granted “Permanent Resident” status. The previous state governments did not have even a moment to spare for their ordeals and any attempt by the current government is opposed vehemently by Pakistan-backed separatists, soft-separatists and valley-centric political parties.
The partition of the Indian sub-continent based on religion forced large scale migration of Hindu families from West Pakistan (now Pakistan) to India and the Muslim families (who opted for Pakistan) to Pakistan. The Hindu migrants settled in different parts of India, including the Jammu region of J&K.
Those who settled in Jammu are the unfortunate lot who till date are tagged as “refugees” and hence denied jobs in the state government, quasi-state jobs, admission in Technical/Professional/Higher Education institutions run by the state, right to vote for panchayats/local bodies/ state legislature, right to buy immovable property, scholarships including Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme for J&K and any other benefit for which production of Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) is mandatory.
The irony is that many of those among them who were wealthy or influential or had permanent resident relatives have managed the PRC but those who were poor, uneducated and landless but hardworking, self-respecting and socially unaware continue to remain deprived till date and referred to as “refugees” despite the fact that they have been residing in the state for three generations now. Most of these families stay in the “Rice Bowl” of the state and generate tremendous revenue for the state government but the state government refuses to grant them permanent residence. The lands they cultivate are “allotted” to them under the “Land to Tiller Act-J&K” and they pay regular land tax to the government yet they are not the owner of the land to the extent that they cannot sell/dispose of the land. They are allowed to build houses on the allotted land but the land does not belong to them.
On the contrary, Muslim families who migrated to Pakistan and became Pakistani citizens are allowed to return even today and claim their property in accordance with Section 6 (2) of the Constitution of J&K amended vide the 6th Amendment enacted in 1965. Isn’t it anarchic?
The families of those militants who went to Pakistan for arms training, married there, produced children and returned to the state with families via the illegal route of Nepal have been granted permanent residence despite being born and brought up in Pakistan on anti-India propaganda. They enjoy all the benefits that are denied to these children of a lesser God because they were born in independent India, are patriotic and belong to the minority Hindu community.
The tale of Valmiki and Gorkha communities is equally disappointing. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s cabinet in 1957 passed a resolution to bring Valmiki families from the neighbouring state of Punjab to work as safai karamcharis. They agreed to move only after they were promised that Permanent Resident clause would be relaxed in their favour. After about 200 families moved to J&K and were engaged by the government, they were recognised as Permanent Resident Safai Karamcharis.
The implication is that they or their descendants can only be employed as safai karamcharis. Gross injustice to a Dalit community. Their children, irrespective of their qualifications, are not eligible for a government job except that of a sweeper. They are also denied all other privileges of a permanent resident like voting, acquisition of immovable property, scholarships and admission to professional/higher education institutions.
Similar is the plight of the miniscule Gorkha community whose forefathers were soldiers in the Sikh Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu (who later founded the Dogra Empire of J&K in 1846) was the Commander in Chief of the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was Maharaja Ranbir Singh, successor of Gulab Singh, who enlisted Gorkhas in the Army of Jammu & Kashmir. These valiant Gorkhas loyally served the state in numerous battles and campaigns leading to spectacular victories.
Many of these Gorkha families settled in Jammu and continued the noble profession of soldiering without bothering to acquire properties. They are socially, economically and educationally backward and do not possess landed property or homes. Their descendants today find it difficult to obtain the PRC without which they cannot enjoy the benefits of permanent residents. Another irony of justice.
The insertion of Article 35A in the Constitution of India through a Presidential proclamation titled The Constitution (Application to Jammu & Kashmir) Order, 1954 is the bête noire that haunts the members of these communities since it is the Caucus Fundamental of all their woes.
Article 35A grants special status to the permanent residents of the state who are defined in Article 6 of the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir. The successive state governments in J&K, in the guise of article 35A and article 370, have been discriminating against non-residents of the state, the category under which these deprived communities are clubbed.
It is a clear-cut display of power politics to protect the interests of a particular community under the garb of preventing change in demography. The 10-Point 1952 Delhi Accord signed between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah included a provision that enabled the state legislature to define “permanent residents” and grant those special rights and privileges as enjoyed under the State Subject Law enacted by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927.
It was also agreed that in accordance with Article 5 of the Constitution of India, persons who have their domicile in J&K shall be the citizens of J&K. Presidential Order of 1954 was made to accommodate the provisions of Delhi Accord — with Article 35A being one of them. It also implied that citizens of India were not ipso-facto citizens of Jammu & Kashmir, hence these sections of the society, though they are Indian citizens, are denied the citizenship of J&K which is determined through ancestry in accordance with State Subject Law 1927. Furthermore, majority of these people belong to Scheduled Castes (SC) and are deprived of all the benefits and schemes of the state government meant for the SC because of inability to produce PRC.
A peep into history would reveal that in 1927 the state of Jammu & Kashmir was an independent princely state and, in the circumstances then prevailing, promulgation of such a restrictive law by the Maharaja was justified in order to protect the interests of his subjects. But now that the State is an integral part of India and the permanent residents are Indian citizens, the very thought of enjoying “exclusive rights” and denying those to other fellow Indians based on the principle of ancestry is against the concept of “Fraternity” enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution of India.
The panacea to the plight of these hapless communities lies in the change of mindset of the Valley-based political leaders of the state. They need to visualise the issue as humanitarian and not political. The logic of demographic change is flawed to the extent that the Hindu community to which they belong will continue to remain in minority in the state even after they are granted permanent resident status. Sections 8 and 9 of the Constitution of J&K are the enabling provisions which authorise the state legislature to amend the definition of permanent residents to include them and their descendants by a two-thirds majority.
Let the present legislature take the initiative and write a new chapter in the history of Jammu & Kashmir unlike their predecessors who, despite enjoying the required majority, lacked the respect for human rights and the political will to become history makers.
*The writer is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, and security and strategic analyst. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]