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Rights restored for tens of thousands of marginalized people in J&K

A historic discrimination has been eliminated in Kashmir as a new domicile law empowers communities like Gorkhas, Valmikis, Hindu refugees as well as state officials with jobs, admissions to educational institutions as well as property holdings.

By: Updated July 7, 2020 12:04 IST
Aliya Tariq, 10, from Sopore in North Kashmir became the first person to receive the domicile certificate on June 22 under the new law (IANS)

As a nation, India keeps springing surprises. One such surprise was the large number of people deprived of dignity and rights in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). These people included refugees from West Pakistan (as it was called at the time of Partition), Gorkha soldiers, the Valmiki community, those settled in J&K for generations, and even senior officials.

Despite being residents of the state for decades, even for generations, people from these communities were considered outsiders. Though they could vote in the parliamentary elections, they could not do so in the state elections. These groups could not buy property, apply for jobs or take admissions to education institutions either.

In short, tens of thousands of people in J&K were treated as second-class citizens.

For the Valmiki community, it was even worse. This group of Hindus, despite living in the state since the fifties, were eligible only for sanitation jobs. Generation after generation of this group of people were forced to work as sweepers and cleaners. Even the dignity of higher education could not save them from working as sweepers.

All these decades, the Valmikis faced a discriminatory policy, similar to what prevails in Pakistan—sanitation and cleaning jobs are reserved exclusively for Christians in government and Pakistani Army jobs. So much so that vacancy advertisements for the sanitation staff in Pakistan come with the disclaimer that the jobs are reserved for Christians. But Pakistan is Pakistan and here we are talking about India.

Besides these communities, thousands of people living and working in Jammu and Kashmir from other Indian states like Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and many others were always considered as ‘outsiders.’ Outsiders in their own country. People like barbers, masons, carpenters, and electricians, who had been living and working in J&K for generations, were discriminated against due to the residency laws. Even their children who were born in the adopted state were considered aliens.

Take the case of the Gorkhas. Known the world over as fierce fighters, these people from India and Nepal have been living in Kashmir since the 19th century. Many Gorkha families from Kashmir have served in the Indian Army generation after generation and yet these people could not apply for jobs or own property due to discriminatory laws. Their children would not get jobs or admission in professional courses.

Ironically, the archaic law even discriminated against Kashmiri women who married outside their communities. They forfeited their right to own property in Kashmir and lost their local status. Even senior bureaucrats who had spent a lifetime working for the people of the state could not buy land, own property or cast vote in local government elections. It was the same case with other officials—researchers, employees of public sector enterprises and universities.

The highly discriminatory provisions—Article 370 along with Article 35A—barred non-locals and other Indians from full rights in J&K. With the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, all these deprived communities and people will get their rights—be able to settle in J&K, buy property and apply for government jobs. It seems ironic to think that a region that has been shouting resistance denied equal rights to others.

The government is not getting carried by euphoria. It has laid down proper criteria so that only those eligible can get domicile certificates—and also that historic wrongs can be righted. Under the new law, besides those who previously held permanent resident certificates, those working in J&K for over 15 years and children of outside parents who pass their 10th and 12th class exam from a recognized educational institution of J&K, are eligible for the domicile certificates.

Under the new law, Navin Kumar a senior IAS officer from Bihar, who has lived all his life in the state because his parents lived in J&K, became the first bureaucrat to get the domicile for the state.

With the archaic laws booted out, communities that had struggled are happy. West Pakistani Refugees Action Committee (WPRAC) chairman Labha Ram Gandhi expressed his optimism for looking forward to a more dignified life. He added that Hindu refugees from West Pak were not considered residents of the state despite living in J&K since 1947. Their children could not take admissions to professional courses.

For the thousands of Gorkhas who had settled in J&K in the 19th century during the reign of the Dogras and were still ‘stateless,’ it has been a big fight for identity. For them, obtaining the domicile certificate amounts to getting recognition of their service in the armed forces. Many are happy that they have finally have a voice.

All these communities, most of them marginalized, had spent decades seeking repeal of Article 35A and Article 370. For thousands of Gorkhas, the Valmikis, Hindu refugees from Pakistan as well as other Indians settled in J&K, the past one week has not just been eventful but also a vindication of their struggle and patience.

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