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A Kashmiri man walks on a snow covered road as another rows his boat as it snows in the interiors of Dal Lake in Srinagar. (AP)
A Kashmiri man walks on a snow covered road as another rows his boat as it snows in the interiors of Dal Lake in Srinagar. (AP)

Opinion | Spring thaw may not be enough to restore life in J&K

Kashmiris will logically demand protection for their land and livelihood

This chill will remain. Weather forecasts for the next week project steadily decreasing temperatures across the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, much snowfall in Kashmir and several parts of the Jammu region. Essential services may snap, as might weakened communication links. Some roads and tunnels could become unpassable. Srinagar airport might be unable to operate. That happens a few times every winter.

However, in 2020, the disruption that will continue to haunt India as policymakers leverage a local action for nationalistic benefit is one of essential communication with Kashmir and some hilly pockets of Jammu. Calibrated easing—first landlines in September, limited mobile telephony in October, severely restricted and government-controlled internet hubs, and since earlier this week, text messages—is not a sign of normality returning. Not when it comes alongside incarcerated politicians and local thought leaders, and the massive security and propaganda blankets that have masked the region from the rest of India and the world since August. Much work remains to be done, besides the restoration in Jammu and Kashmir of civil liberties and communication as befit citizens of democratic India.

After the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir last August into the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, they came directly under the ministry of home affairs (MHA) in New Delhi, the nodal ministry for all Union territories with regard to legislation, finance and budget, and appointments.

Ladakh, as a Union territory without a designated legislature, is overseen by an advisory committee helmed by the MHA and overseen by the home minister. Jammu and Kashmir’s legislative assembly was dissolved in November 2018, when the state passed over to governor’s rule—New Delhi’s rule. Democracy there will remain a pretentious commodity until the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir regains the right to elect its leaders to an assembly. Clarity is also necessary as to what reality will replace Article 35A of the Constitution abrogated in August along with Article 370, which provided Jammu and Kashmir special status. That was followed through with splitting the state into Union territories, concluding a longstanding play from the book of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, as this column explained at the time. The annulling of Article 35A on account of being “discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir" and it being “an obstacle in the development of the state" may also prove to be incendiary, sooner than later.

Article 35A, among its various provisions, granted special rights to permanent residents of erstwhile J&K state for: “(i) employment under the state government; (ii) acquisition of immovable property in the state; (iii) settlement in the state …" and defining such residents.

It’s another matter that it closely resembled Article 371A of the Constitution, which allows Nagaland primacy of local practices and customary law, tribal ownership of land, and jobs, among other things. Articles 371C provides safeguards in parts of Manipur and 371G, in Mizoram. A similar constitutional extension applies to Arunachal Pradesh. Assam and Meghalaya have such protection too. Indeed, so do Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, parts of Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, which protect ownership of land for locals. As this column has noted before, if Article 35A prevented development of Jammu and Kashmir, how can similar provisions be said to aid development elsewhere?

More than spring thaw would need to attend such matters. It would arrive in a supercharged political situation brought on by the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, or CAA in mid-December and massive protests over CAA and public suspicion over it complementing the equally controversial National Register of Citizens.

Besides liberty and communication, numerous citizens of Jammu and Kashmir will logically demand protection for their land and livelihood, let alone recompense for livelihood affected by several months of security and communication clampdown, that has been granted to fellow citizens in North-East India. There entire states, and “indigenous" regions in Assam and Tripura, for instance, have been exempted from CAA. The rights and lands of the “indigenous" are sought to be further protected by extending the Inner Line Permit, which screens visitors, besides autonomy in administration and governance.

Or will Jammu and Kashmir remain a special case—a calibrated basket case—of absent democracy? The nation might want to know. Residents of Jammu and Kashmir certainly would.

This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights and runs on Thursdays.

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