How Delhi’s Domicile Intervention Will Impact Kashmiri Pandits More Than Muslims?

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Unlike Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits were the main players in enforcing stringent state subject laws to suit their own interests. Now by supporting the undoing of that they have seriously hurt their own status, writes Haseeb A Drabu

In Houston (USA) on September 22, 2019, a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits met the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and “unequivocally supported the steps being taken for the progress of India and empowerment of every Indian”. Image: PMO India

A month after Article 370 was revoked; a group of Kashmiri Pandits met Prime Minister Modi in Houston. They kissed his hand in gratitude for revoking the special constitutional status of J&K.

Closer home, Pandits became an integral part of the jingoistic coverage on the constitutional conquest of Kashmir; many celebrated it on the streets by distributing sweets. Many more offered free advisory on social media to prospective buyers of land in the valley. The saner voices, a sprinkling at best, were drowned in the din of delusion.

Neither Maharaja Hari Singh nor his Muslims subjects – the supposed benefactor and the perceived beneficiary– were in the picture at all. It was all done by the British and the Kashmir Pandits with some Dogras thrown in as garnishing!

Caught in the propaganda, which was pervasive and pernicious, the Kashmiris Pandits were led to believe that the new framework would enable them to go back to where they belong.

Their celebration of the abrogation of Article 35A, especially in light of the later sequential developments, is a tragic irony. It is ironic that those who conceived and delivered the domicile law in Kashmir celebrated its demise. It is tragic because the new domicile law disenfranchises them even more than the Kashmiri Muslims.

First the irony. To suit the present narrative, past has been recrafted to argue that the state subject was a big favour to the Kashmiri Muslims by Hari Singh, later continued by the Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954; appeasement in lieu of a contentious accession.

A Pandit Exclusive

The fact is the state subject law was enacted because of the Pandits, by the Pandits and for the Pandits. Executed by the British and not the Dogra Maharaja, it had nothing to do with the Kashmir Muslims.

Director Yuvraj Kumar and debutante Rippy Kaul play the lead role in Kashmir: The Final Resolution, a film that revolves round the scrapping of Article 370.

In 1889 immediately after Pratap Singh was made to give up his powers, the State Council replaced Persian, the court language, with Urdu as the official language. This hit the Kashmiri Pandits hard, especially the KarkunBhatte who had learnt Persian (those who learnt Sanskrit were called the Bhasha Bhatte) during the time of Zain-ul-Abidin. To regain their place in the bureaucracy and position in the power structure which they lost to the Urdu-lettered Punjabis, they campaigned for reservation of Kashmiris in government jobs.

By 1894, they had set up Sanatan Dharam Sabha, which started the “Kashmir for Kashmiris” movement. It advocated exclusive reservation for Kashmiris and exclusion of non-Kashmiris from the State service. In the fight to secure the rights of the mulkis vis a vis the non-mulkis, they were joined by the Dogra Sadar Sabha.

By 1910, they had succeeded in convincing the State Council of their demands and in 1912, the state subject law with employment protection was enacted. Hence, to emphasize: neither Maharaja Hari Singh nor his Muslims subjects – the supposed benefactor and the perceived beneficiary– were in the picture at all. It was all done by the British and the Kashmir Pandits with some Dogras thrown in as garnishing!

The well-know State Subject Notification of 1927 issued by Maharaja Hari Singh was just a revision of the criteria as the earlier law had proved to be ineffective in curbing the influx of non-Kashmiris. The revisions made the law more stringent and extensive by adding exclusive property rights. Even this revision was got done by the Kashmiri Pandits on their own. Not to miss an interesting factoid, the Revenue Minister who issued it, R K Kaul, was a Kashmiri Pandit!

Non Existent Majority

At this time, Muslims were nowhere in the picture because marginalised and excluded as they were, they had no stakes in the system. Their educational status was abysmally low and they were appallingly poor. According to the Census of 1911, there were just six Muslim graduates. Out of the 1500 students in the State High Schools, not even a hundred were Muslim. There was not a single Muslim student among the 300 odd boys in the CMS School.

Ghulam Ahmed Ashai, Jammu and Kashmir University’s first Registrar.

He believed that Kashmiri Pandits with their monopoly over the bureaucracy had made Kashmiri Muslims suffer. So he reckoned that non-mulki Muslims might be more sympathetic to their plight than the mulki Pandit

Far from supporting the move, the representatives of the Muslim community actually opposed the state subject law and its employment reservations. The cerebral pioneer of the freedom struggle of Kashmir, Ghulam Ahmed Ashai, who was to later become a member of the Glancy Commission, formally opposed it in 1921 in his deposition before the Committee on State subject.

He believed that Kashmiri Pandits with their monopoly over the bureaucracy had made Kashmiri Muslims suffer. So he reckoned that non-mulki Muslims might be more sympathetic to their plight than the mulki Pandit. The Kashmiri Muslims were that time more concerned about their wage hikes rather than aspire for salaried government jobs as was evident from the Silk factory strike of 1924.

100 years later, we have come a full circle. The champions of state subject law are the cheerleaders for its revocation while its erstwhile opponents are resisting its removal! Ironic.

A Century Later

Now for the tragedy. Even as the new domicile law in its present form has taken care to include the West Pakistan Refugees, the Kashmiri Pandits have been left out; if not by design but by default. Most of Kashmiri Pandits, displaced from Kashmir in 1990, will not qualify criteria that have been laid out. It may seem like an administrative impediment, but strictly speaking as of now as per the new domicile act they stand excluded. A deemed domicile status could have been easily provided to include them.

An old-time photograph of Kashmir Muslims and pandits in Habba Kadal.

In fact, if anything, a majority of Kashmiri Pandits have lost the most by the new domicile rules. It has been a double whammy for them; first as Kashmiris and then as Kashmiri Pandits. As the former, the share the downgrade from having been domicile of origin — a legal right — to a domicile of choice, not even an enabling statute, but just a condition. As Kashmiri Pandits, the new notification does not cover a majority of them who were forced to abandon their home and migrate to outside the state.

Up until now, all of them, migrant or not, had a documented domicile of origin – the hereditary state subject certificate – giving them the natural and legal right that could not have been “entirely obliterated and extinguished”. Even when they had opted for another domicile, be in India or anywhere in the world, and even if they had relinquished it, it would remain in abeyance during the continuance of that acquired domicile.

Most significantly, the hereditary domicile status that they had would not require to be regained or reconstituted animoet facto in the event of a loss as has happened in their case because of the mass displacement in 1990. Now, as thing stand, they will have to. No matter what amendments are made, a majority of the Kashmiri Pandits will have to re-establish their domicile status as if it is the acquisition of a new domicile. This is tragic.

The same group of Kashmiri Pandits who were seen thanking the Prime Minister in the US, or the ones distributing sweets in Delhi or getting goosebumps in TV studios are the ones who have legally been excluded from the domicile rights in the land of his forefathers.

Their forefathers — Pandit Shankar Lal Kaul, Jialal Kilam and J L Jalali — the crusaders for the state subject law in Kashmir, must be distressed at the short-sightedness of their progeny. How they fell for the populist propaganda and lost what they had fought for and achieved in 1927.

Given the bureaucratic maze and the procedural formalities that will be invoked on the ground, it will be even more difficult, now than ever before, for the Kashmiri Pandits to venture going back to their land; administratively, socially as well as legally.

Tail Piece

Haseeb Drabu

Much after the state subject law was notified, when the educational situation of Kashmiri Muslims improved, thanks to Mirwaiz Rasul Shah, the first crop, which included Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, came into the state services job market. Naturally, they raised the issue of discrimination in state services with the Glancy Commission which submitted a favourable report.

No sooner this happened, the Kashmiri Pandits started the Roti agitation and appealed to the British, that their “enlightened, educated, law-abiding community which had drunk deep at the fountain of English learning and culture” was under siege from the “barbarous and ignorant” Muslims!

(Author is an economist and a former editor and former Finance Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Ideas are personal.)

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