For years, Badrudin Jamal (name changed upon request), 65, purchased rice grains for double the price the consumers got it for at a government outlet in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
When his two kids came of age, he faced problems in their school enrolment. After his youngest daughter’s birth at a city hospital, he could not obtain her birth certificate. Officials in the city municipality turned him away because, in the eyes of law, he was an ‘outsider’.
For people like Jamal, a resident of West Bengal, these hindrances were seen as fait accompli. But all of this is going to change after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government – despite mass opposition in the newly-formed union territory – pushed for new domicile laws.
Are New Domicile Rules In Kashmir Part Of BJP’s ‘Hinduisation’ Agenda?
“I am really thankful to the Modi government for bringing the new law. It will ease sufferings of people like me. I have been working in Kashmir for more than 15 years, yet I was treated like an alien,” Jamal said.
But Jamal doesn’t want to be identified by his real name. The issue has touched a raw nerve, especially in Kashmir, where residents and political parties see the new rules as the advancement of the ‘Hinduisation’ of Kashmir by the BJP-led central government.
“I don’t want any trouble. If people get to know, I could be lynched,” he said.
According to the new rules, any Indian who has been living in J&K for 15 years, studied in the former state for 7 years, or passed their Class 10/12 exam from an educational institution in J&K, as well as their children, are eligible for the domicile certificate.
The list also includes children of officials of the central government, All India Services, banks and PSUs, statutory bodies and central universities, who have served in the erstwhile state of J&K for 10 years.
The new rules will bring non-locals at par with the residents of J&K in terms of employment opportunities, property ownership and social security benefits.
‘Over 90,000 Domicile Certificates Issued In Kashmir Valley’
After the Modi government introduced the new rules that came into force in June, the J&K government, till 6 August evening, had issued close to 6 lakh domiciles, most of them in the Hindu majority Jammu region, said Pawan Kotwal, who heads J&K’s Revenue Department, the nodal agency for issuing domicile certificates.
Kotwal told The Quint:
“Over 90,000 certificates have been issued in Kashmir Valley.”
Kotwal said the domicile certificates have been given mostly to the original residents of Jammu and Kashmir. Asked about the number of non-locals who have got the certificate, he said: “We are in the process of categorising the data into different sections of beneficiaries who have obtained domicile certificates. It will become available in some days.”
A senior officer in the J&K government said some of the beneficiaries include IAS officers, their family members, erstwhile West Pakistani refugees and members of the Balmiki Samaj and the Gorkha community.
“It includes around 2,500 Valmikis and 1,000 Gorkhas, most of whom live in Jammu region,” the officer said. “Around 10,000 certificates are issued daily.”
Why New Domicile Law Has Sparked Political Uproar In Kashmir
However, the issue has sparked a political uproar in Kashmir. It has also exposed fissures in the Valley’s political mainstream. Omar Abdullah, the de-facto head of the National Conference, recently hinted that his party would participate in elections if J&K’s statehood was restored, while avoiding a clear stand on the row.
The party earlier filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019 under which the former state was split into two federally administered union territories.
“Since the matter is under the consideration of the Supreme Court, the government of India is resorting to unconstitutional measures by issuing domicile certificates. We will continue to challenge these unilateral moves.”Imran Nabi Dar, a spokesperson of the National Conference
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), whose president Mehbooba Mufti continues to remain under detention, believes the “Muslim majority character of Jammu and Kashmir is a major road block for the Hindu Rashtra project of the Sangh Parivar.
“The ghost of demographic change, and political and administrative disempowerment will be riding on the horse of domicile law,” said Firdous Tak, senior PDP leader and party spokesperson.
“Everything which followed the constitutional fraud of 5 August 2019 is not acceptable to the people and the PDP. We will fight for our dignity, pride and identity,” Tak said.
Asked how the party intended to fight, Tak replied: “Democratically, legally and constitutionally. Rome was not conquered in a day. Constantinople was not lost overnight. Historic battles are fought with determination and the hope to succeed keeps the resistance alive.”
How Young Kashmiris Feel: ‘What Choice Do I Have?’
However, while the issue has stirred up a hornet’s nest, many young Kashmiris are lining up outside the offices of the revenue department to acquire these certificates. To apply for government jobs in the former state, they will have to furnish one with their application.
Sajad Bhat, an engineering graduate in Srinagar said:
“What choice do I have. I may not like this change but it has become a necessity now. Private jobs are scarce and if I don’t obtain the certificate, I can’t apply for a government job which means I will have to stay at home.”
Ruhullah Mehdi, senior NC leader, who recently stepped down as the NC’s chief spokesperson, reportedly over the party’s ‘silence’ over the issue, said that domicile rules are an “important element for the BJP’s grand scheme of things” in Jammu and Kashmir.
“The forced absence of political activity in J&K is purposely designed for the smooth implementation of their (BJP’s) majoritarian agenda,” said Ruhullah, a three-time legislator from Budgam district.
“By removing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution the way they did, they turned the clock back by 70 years. We should not settle for anything short of the restoration of the dignity and the special status of the state.”
(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)