J&K needs wider debate over Article 35-A; the earlier, the better

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Debate over the validity of the article 35-A and that of the order of 1954 has brought under focus the much controversial provisions. Article 370 is constitutional provision which provides special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Incorporated as a temporary provision in the constitution, article 370 limits legislative powers of the Parliament for Jammu and Kashmir to specific matters namely defence, foreign affairs and communication.

Article 35A on the other hand was incorporated to empower the state government of Jammu and Kashmir to define the term “Permanent Residents” of the state and provide for the special rights and privileges that the permanent residents can enjoy. In conjunction with article 370, the presidential order for 1954 provided that no bill to increase or diminish the area of the state or altering its name or the boundaries can be introduced in the Parliament.

While a lot has been written about the article forming a connecting link between India and the state of J and K, the claims and counter claims regarding its constitutionality, validity and necessity have either been made by those based in Delhi or by the valley centric groups. Historically, the narrative on article 370 has been exclusionary, such that discussion around the provisions under articles 370 & 35A as well as the presidential order of 1954 has deliberately left out the manner in which these constitutional and legal provisions have worked to impact the lives of the state’s minorities.

Article 370, 35A and order 1954 are an unwanted burden which the region has carried with itself since the time of its inception. While the provisions under these articles were meant at safeguarding the ‘cultural integrity’ of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, in reality, these have only worked to erode the cultural integrity of the state’s minorities. Under article 35A, the state government was allowed to define the term ‘permanent residents’ such that no person from outside could purchase land within the state.

While this effectively created a barrier between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country, the governments, both at the centre and the state, did nothing to do away with the barriers imposed within the state. In the last few decades, the state has seen a huge migration from the north to the south, such that the Jammu region is flooded with refugees from the valley.

While there is a large influx of population migrating down south, the reverse migration is a near absent phenomenon. Such is the complete apathy of the north towards the south, that the last time the state government decided to allot lands to the people from south in the valley for temporary settlements, the valley responded with an immediate shutdown and widespread protests.

While Jammu is reeling under the migratory influx, given its financial, spatial and infrastructural crunch, the valley has been absolutely reluctant to accommodate or even share some of the pressures faced by the other two regions. Article 370 and 35A were incorporated to prevent the much feared ‘Hindu cultural imperialism’ by New Delhi on Kashmir, but, they do absolutely nothing to prevent a similar cultural and linguistic imperialism which is unfolding within the boundaries of the state. The state elites are guilty of promoting majoritarianism by providing social, financial and political support to a particular language and way of life.

Those who are wary of the central government’s intent at changing the profile of article 370 are the very same people who have propagated the politics of exclusion at the behest of the discriminatory provisions legislated under the garb of the very same article. The larger question then arises; who benefits from the provision of article 370? Jammu doesn’t and neither does Ladakh.

The article only works to stonewall the development in the two regions and perpetuate cultural majoritarianism in the state. It’s about time that the debate on the article takes into account the concerns of the ‘entire state of Jammu and Kashmir’ and not just those of the Kashmir based groups, who in the last 70 years, have never been able to look beyond their own vested socio-political interests.

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