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New Domicile Law in Kashmir : Then and Now

The present Act is a grave injustice with the locals as it throws conflict-ridden people open to compete unguardedly with the most sophisticated population who had hardly witnessed a shutdown during their whole courses.

Change is the only constant thing, as such, standing against change is ignorance. Throughout times, change had always been the fashion of the day, but change that had beautified and blessed a community had always received a warm welcome. While as change that had an ugly look and negative repercussions was reacted by the communities immediately or lately. Reactions proved brutal and violent in case of strong societies while as hate, abuse, chewing-teeth and guerrilla warfare formed weapon of the weak. But one thing is obvious, that every action has a reaction is universal.

Turning our attention towards Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the current issue that is discussed and debated widely here is the new Domicile Act passed recently by the Union Government. The questions like ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ form the common themes of discussion. Turning to the pages of history one get acquainted with the facts that such an issue is not novel to the land but redefining domicile criteria had attracted the attention of the governments in the past as well.

After the Treaty of Amritsar, popularly known as sale-deed of Kashmir, the ruler of Jammu, Maharaja Gulab Singh, also became the ruler Kashmir after welding the two separate territories with the help of British in 1846, and in this way the State of Jammu & Kashmir was created. The Maharaja was not given the sovereignty over the external matters of the State but internally he was left completely free. The result was that the corrupt administration and oppressive regime became the hallmarks of the rule. The Central Government (British from Delhi) did best by intervening at the right time and overthrows the third ruler of the dynasty, Pratap Singh, through impeachment on the pretext of miss-governance.

Maharaja Gulab Singh

Afterwards, Center began to rule over the State through its nominated candidate called The Resident. The intervention of the Center proved blessings for the whole State especially for the Kashmir. Kashmir witnessed drastic reforms, for instance, world two largest national highways- Baramulla Card Road (1895) and Banihal Cart Road (1920) were constructed that ended the isolation of the Valley, boosted trade and connected it with the Indian Sub-ontinent, land settlement was introduced that proved first erosions to the Treaty of Amritsar, education and health care system was modernized and patronized by the government. History remembers this Central Governments intervention and the aftermath as the era of modernization in Kashmir.

At the same time, Central Government took other steps on the name of modernization but that caused tribulations in the following decades. The most prominent decision taken was changing official language of the State from Persian to Urdu in 1889. And, at the same time, the minutes of proceedings of the Regency Council, headed by the Resident, were maintained in the English language. It was obvious that there were few Urdu and almost none English speaker in Kashmir. Without finding solution to the problem within State, Government took a drastic step by inviting men from neighboring state like Punjab and Bengal to fill the vacuum and boss the departments. Over the period of time businessmen, adventurers, missioners and government servants began to control various positions of vantage and purchased large plots of land in the Valley.

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The outsiders marched with such a speed that local population became apprehensive about their growth. The most nervous classes were those whose interests were totally antagonistic to those of immigrants. Kashmiri Pandits, being the only educated class, smelled the threat most since it was the only class who depended exclusively on the government jobs. As the immigrants began to replace them in the bureaucracy, they bitterly began to resent this new order of things and kept on voicing their grievances by submitted various petitions and memorandums to the government. Over the period of time, Pandits started advancing in modern education after the opening of several government and missionary modern schools in various districts of Kashmir. Even in 1905, S.P College was opened in Srinagar. After becoming competent for the administrative posts, Pandits launched a popular movement ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’ from 1912 onwards to compel the government to stop recruiting of non-locals at the cost of locals. Muslims, being the agrarian population and backward in modern education did not join (neither opposed) the movement.

Maharaja Hari Singh

Maharaja Hari Singh, who became ruler of Kashmir in 1925, was able to grasp keenly the problems that Kashmir was about to witness in the future and immediately passed “Hereditary State Subject” in 1927. The act declared all persons born and residing in State between 1846-1885 the hereditary subjects of the State i.e., from the commencement of Dogra rule upto the appointment of the Resident by the Center. The rest were declared ineligible for Government Services and for purchase of immobile property. Such an act became the base of Article-370 in the constitution of the India after 1947. Keeping non-locals, who were much advanced in every aspect, ineligible for state administrative posts boosted the locals to compete for the government jobs and turn towards modern education. Large number of primary and secondary schools (private and public) began to spring throughout the State and, as a result, the superstitious and backward mentality received a severe blow.

Now coming to current times, the Central Government has amended the law and has given it a totally different shape and form. Already stated that change is inevitable, but whether such a change is healthy or not will be decided by the future. Here it is my personal initiative to contrast the past with present, and find out how history and post-history will remember the amendment. The present Domicile Law, passed recently, permits all non-locals to qualify as domiciles of the State on certain conditions: if he/she had resided in the State for 15 years or studied in the State for 7 years and appeared in either the class 10th or 12th examinations here. Children of Central Government officers (Army, Paramilitary forces, IAS, IPS) and employees of public sector undertaking and banks, central university etc who have served the State for 10 years also qualify for the residence in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Keeping both the Acts in consideration one can easily find out that the Dogra rulers who had been painted by the historians, academicians and philosophers with the dark labels like communal, regional, feudal, oppressive were eventually paternal, visionary and benevolent as well.

The present Act is a grave injustice with the locals as it throws conflict-ridden people open to compete unguardedly with the most sophisticated population who had hardly witnessed a shutdown during their whole courses. In the future it is going to hurt the sentiments of the people of the State, who are more sentimental than rational. Though the authorities may have good intentions behind the act, for instance, that it will curb the violence and break the back of the conflict, but that is an illusion. Till the provocative and stimulant neighbor is at the back, the elimination of the chaos is unmanageable. And on the track of conflict, locals are no more than the pawn on the chessboard; they are fruits not the roots.

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The more complex problem that will follow the act seems social in nature. The new residents will hardly get mix-up with the locals and the separateness will be visible in every department and institution i.e., mulkis and gair-mulkis. An example lies in the case of mujahirs and ansars, there was Holy Prophet and His teachings to cement them together, but in such case there seems nothing to attract them to work together for a common end. Such alienation can never guarantee peace and prosperity of the State instead it will lead people towards delusion and fear. Politicians will spare it less and can turn it as a tool of exploitation. It is obvious that till the democratic constitution guides the political sphere of our country, the locals will always dominate the political power in the Union Territory of J&K. In case locals doubted or instigated that an un-democratic political path have been followed, it could emit the recalling of 1987 election and aftermath.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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