By Kanika Rangray
The Supreme Court issued a notice to the law department of Jammu and Kashmir, regarding a petition filed by Jammu and Kashmir Study Centre (JKSC), an RSS-backed organisation, which challenges Article 35A of the Indian Constitution.
Article 35A of the Indian Constitution allows the state of Jammu and Kashmir to grant special privileges and rights to permanent residents.
Delhi-based JKSC had filed a petition with the apex court last month, saying Article 35A does not allow non-residents of the state from buying land or property, getting a government job or voting in assembly elections in J&K. The organisation claims to be independent but is alleged to have the support of the RSS.
A senior officer in J&K’s law department told The Citizen, “We have received a notice (from the Supreme Court) on the matter and our legal team is preparing a response. The government will prepare a response, keeping in view the special status granted to the state under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.”
The petition against Article 35A is being considered as a stepping stone towards abolishing Article 370, a law in the Indian Constitution that grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir. As per this article, the constitutional provisions applicable to other states are not applicable to J&K. The state has its own constitution, except for matters related to defense, foreign relations, communication and finance, which come under the jurisdiction of the Indian Constitution.
How it all began…
Article 370 was incorporated in the Indian Constitution in 1947, when the then ruler of J&K Maharaja Hari Singh signed Instrument of Accession to India. However, the relationship of this state with the rest of the country was governed by special circumstances, and hence given a special position. The Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir, which Dr. Karan Singh (son of Maharaja Hari Singh) signed into law in 1957, still governs the state.
Rahul Jalali, president of the Press Club of India, said: “Article 370 is a constitutional bridge between the Indian Constitution and the laws that govern Jammu and Kashmir.”
Article 35 deals with the status of the people in J&K—Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC). It was enacted in 1927 by Maharaja Hari Singh and was then called the State Subject Act. According to this Act, it gave the right of property only to citizens of J&K. It also gives the right of employment only to citizens of Jammu and Kashmir.
But after 1947, certain amendments were made to this Act. During that time period, a number of refugees came from Pakistan and settled in Jammu and Kashmir. Now, they have been given temporary resident-ship in the state, but their status is still unclear. On one side, they have voting rights, but they do not hold citizenship of the state. They are citizens of India, but with the lack of PRC they are not allowed to own any property or do a government job.
The way it affected the people of J&K
The Valmikis, a community in J&K, are also affected by this Act. This community settled in Jammu, and though they were given part citizenship rights, they were not given the right to work. The Valmikis were brought in during the Maharaja’s time, but to do a specific sort of labour—scavenging.
And this practice continues till date.
There is a clause in Article 370 itself, which says that this law cannot be abolished by anyone other than the J&K constituency. It is due to this that some people are of the view that Article 370 can never be abolished. But another interpretation is that by constituent assembly, it means J&K assembly, which thereby holds the power to abolish this law.
According to Jalali, it is more of a “legal and intellectual debate.” The people in Kashmir are very clear that they do not want Article 370 to be abolished, but people in Jammu have not really made up their minds yet. A local political party in Jammu, the Panthers Party, keeps an unstable stance regarding this issue, sometimes saying it wants 370 to be abolished and sometimes saying that it wants it to stay.
One of the reasons that the state wishes to regain its special status is because it has its own set of laws. Like the country has the Indian Penal Code, similarly the state has a Ranbir Penal Code (named after Ranbir Singh, the great-grandfather of Dr. Karan Singh.)
The only national party opposed to Article 370 is the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). It has twice tried to abolish it, once in 1998 and now again. And so the Kashmiri people believe that since no other party is willing to abolish this, it will never be gone.
Jalali says that as of now “article 370 is just on paper”. This article means nothing to the poor. Major needs in Jammu and Kashmir are of employment. Kashmir has one of the highest educated unemployed youth in the country, but unfortunately, there are no jobs. Despite article 370, investment is allowed in Jammu and Kashmir. The problem is that no private company has gone there.
“Kashmir has to change its law. It is ridiculous that people who came here in 1947 are not given citizenship. Secondly, there is also a problem as to why have they limited the Valmikis to a traditional job?” in Mr. Jalali’s opinion. “There is a need of amendment in this law, and not exactly abolishment of this Act.”