Investing immense energy in publicising the domicile rules for Jammu and Kashmir could have waited at a time when the focus should be dealing with the pandemic and the immense impact of the lockdown on livelihoods of people. Indeed an irony that a government that remains unfazed by the ugly nation-wide spectacle of dispossessed migrant workers, their long march home, the crowded trucks, the deaths due to exhaustion and hunger, the unfair tweaking of labour laws and charging transportation fares from the poor should be more bothered about how new settlers can be brought into a region whose political and geographical contours were brutalized nine months ago. Equally ironical, that the region which has not tasted normalcy for nine months, has transgressed from one lockdown to another, where even the plea for restoration of internet in the apex court, which itself laid down internet as a fundamental right, is not provided with a remedy, and where people continue to be in prolonged detention without any charges, should now be normalised by opening the gates to outsiders.
Administrative changes to carry forward the project of transforming its sociological landscape seems to be the pressing emergency for the government. A slew of notifications by J&K government, detailing the process for obtaining domicile certificates is, thus, coupled with the well-oiled propaganda machinery that is useful for peddling some of the worst lies and magnifying them.
J&K has now officially been opened to those residing here for 15 years, those who studied here for ten years or government and public sector undertaking officials who worked here for ten years. To hasten the process, the authority for granting domicile certificates is at the door of the tehsildar. The officer category of aspirants will be getting their domicile certificates through the government secretariat. A time frame of 15 days has been set, and failure to dispense applications within another seven days would lead to punitive action. This is in striking contrast to the process for getting permanent resident certificate, commonly called the State Subject certificate, for which the authorising powers rested with the deputy commissioner and the cumbersome process coupled with bureaucratic red-tapism often made it a prolonged ordeal of over two years. As per the notifications, the PRC holders will be required to get new domicile certificates and the PRC document will be treated as a valid proof, not a valid substitute, allowing government to revise the list of residents of J&K and collect their data. Is this the regional variant of the National Register of Citizens?
How cumbersome the process will eventually be and what will be the compliance policy or structure is yet to be seen. While the rules indicate the government’s haste in changing J&K’s social topography, there is no mention of transparency and accountability mechanisms, heightening the chance of unscrupulous practices and backdoor entries as well as harassment to bonafide residents.
Just like the time when J&K was stripped of its special status and reorganized into two union territories, the BJP, its loyalist intellectuals and the stooge-media has once again brought out of its bag the ‘list of advantages’ of the opening of domicile status for the prospective beneficiaries. Columns are being printed and phrases being mouthed to project the “benefits” of the orders passed since the Covid-19 lockdown began, all laced with lies.
It is being touted that West Pakistan refugees, Dalits, Chhamb refugees, Kashmiri Pandits and women will now get their due. The case of West Pakistan refugees, languishing in uncertainty for over seven decades, has indeed been awaiting a humanitarian intervention for long. The 200-300 odd sanitation workers who were brought to Jammu and Kashmir from neighbouring state of Punjab in 1956-57 is yet another but it is being wrongly projected to include all Dalit communities living in the state. The Chhamb refugees were PRC holders by virtue of being dislocated from areas in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and were never denied the rights as permanent citizens. So is the case of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits, whether they chose to shift base to Jammu or moved on to other parts of the country and abroad, unless the reference is to the Kashmiri Pandits who migrated more than a century ago, before the State Subject law was formed. The question of gender parity, which arose from the ambiguity of the original law and its myopic interpretation, was settled in favour of women in 2002. In fact, after the abrogation of Article 370, some of the rights that women enjoyed including reservation in professional colleges has been dispensed with.
The claims of people of Jammu and Kashmir being happy with both the dilution of the state’s special status and the framing of domicile rules is a mismatch from ground reality where an overwhelming sense of loss, penetration of fear of speaking out and the present lockdown perpetuates a silence. Whether it is Jammu, despite its lately dominant right-wing discourse, or Kashmir, where conflict induces multiple socio-religious and political ramifications, the thought of losing their monopoly to land, jobs etc is pretty much uniform. The accumulation of loss of what they had prior to August 5 – the political space, the freedom to speak and denial of full access to internet – does not only make a case of apathy but calculated deprivation and trampling of rights in degrees that vary from region to region. In Kashmir, they also bring to life the dread of demographic change, something that seemed preposterous at one time.
Doors for the outsiders for getting domicile status will open by trampling the rights of the original inhabitants, subjecting them to prolonged sufferings and indignities. When the introduction of domicile rules is peddled as the pinnacle of justice, it amounts to rubbing salt over the wounds of the people. When someone like Ram Madhav patronizingly feels that the silence of the people of the state should not be “rewarded” with restoration of 4G internet and “full-fledged political activity”, it is not difficult to imagine what is on the anvil. Political activity requires freedom to exercise options and freedom to express ideas.
The existing atmosphere is very different, particularly in Kashmir. Hundreds of political activists of all hues faced months of detention. While many were released on conditional bonds that forbid them to speak on certain matters including the dilution of the special status of Jammu & Kashmir and its reorganization, some continue to be jailed and many also placed under house arrest. Tens of hundreds of ordinary men, activists, traders and lawyers continue to be in prison in distant lands because it is feared that they may speak out. Journalists are summoned by Cyber Police for their reports and social media comments and three are facing criminal charges. These rules of engagement are reinforced with regular surveillance and methods of control that seek portray Kashmiris as villains and Jammuites as non-existent.
So, when Ram Madhav writes about time being ripe for introducing “full-fledged political activity”, it could only mean a euphemism for politics certified, endorsed and stamped by New Delhi. This idea of political activity in fetters with denigration of politics of any kind that does not comply with the whims of the rulers is being normalized and offered like charity.