The Domicile Debate

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New residency rules have plunged Jammu and Kashmir into deep uncertainty. People on both sides of Pir Panchal fear the loss of “inheritance” marks the beginning of a serious crisis for new generations on the jobs front, reports Saima Bhat

A delegation of Gorkha community in Jammu called on Lt Governor GC Murmu and thanked him for enabling them to be domiciles of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: DIPR

Javid Ahmad, 36, was dusting his documents on the weekend. A doctor by profession, he got a chance to peep into his library after a long time. Sorting his books and organising his files, the faded covers and yellow pages transported him to his school and college days. Recollecting the memories, he began to share the details with his wife. In between, he found a slim certificate holder. From his KG classes to PG certificate, it had all. However, one of them was well kept and maintained.

Divisional Commissioner Jammu distributing the domicile certificates at a camp organised in Jammu. Photo: DIPR

Laminated on both sides, it was a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), which besides other details read: “Javid Ahmad is a permanent resident of the Jammu and Kashmir State as defined in section 6 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution.”

In a flash, the nostalgic rush coursed through him. He remembered the hard work he had put in to get this certificate before he stood in the medical entrance test.“It was a hectic task to visit the office of the deputy commissioner and meet the concerned officials. After many days and repeated pleadings, finally, I had the piece of paper in my hand enabling me to appear for the erstwhile state examination,” he said.

For years, Javid took care of this certificate and one of the first things his wife handed over to him was her own PRC. But now when a permanent resident certificate has been replaced with ’domicile’ Javid see the PRC as a “memento” of his struggle and sentiment. “My one-year-old son would see this as a part of the legacy,” he said.

State Subjects, No More

Ending slightly less than a century old privileges over jobs – and possibly on land too, the Government of India (GoI) threw open the citizenship in two newly created Union Territories-Jammu and  Kashmir, and Ladakh on October 31, 2019. This order came nearly three months after the centre repealed Article 370 and Article 35A of the constitution of India, a law giving Jammu and Kashmir autonomy over some of its affairs. Earlier even the power to define permanent residents lay with the state legislature.

The permanent resident has now been replaced with “domicile” with retrospective effect after the union government passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Order, 2020.

New Rules

Implemented in the UT from midnight of March 31, as per the section 3A of the order, individuals who have resided in Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years or have studied for seven years or appeared in examinations for class 10th or 12th are eligible for the grant of a domicile certificate. The eligibility also extends to West Pakistan Refugees (WPR) registered as migrants under the erstwhile State’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.

The order further includes “children of those Central government officials, all India services officers, officials of PSUs and autonomous body of Central government, public sector banks, officials of statutory bodies, officials of central universities and recognised research institutes of the central government who have served in Jammu and Kashmir for a total period of ten years or children of parents who fulfil any of the conditions in sections.”

Children of such residents of Jammu and Kashmir who reside outside Jammu and Kashmir in connection with their employment or business or other professional or vocational reasons too are among the beneficiaries. However, the UT of Ladakh does not come under the new law.

LT Governor GC Murmu meeting a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits after the domicile certificate systems were announced. Photo: DIPR

In the new setup, a tehsildar has been empowered to issue a domicile certificate in most of the cases and Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner in the case of migrants. This is in contrast to the earlier practice where the issuing authority was the Deputy Commissioner or any officer specially notified by the government in the erstwhile state by way of a gazette notification in the form of an SRO. There is a penalty clause in case the concerned officials fail to issue a certificate within a stipulated time frame.

Legal Position

While the politicians continued to talking against the new rules, many people believe that the idea is just a facade because the Constitution and the Supreme Court of India does not accept any domicile status within India other than being an Indian domicile. There are various judgements on this issue already part of records. An Indian domicile can live anywhere in India.

On this argument, the domicile certificate lacks any comparison with the PRC that was a document issued under the Constitution. At the most, they say, the domicile is being used to create a sort of reservation in Jammu and Kashmir in jobs.

Even if they are rules and not laws, the concerned people assert that they are triggering a change on ground, at least on the jobs front, for the time being.

Diaspora Issues

The new law, Mirza Saaib Beg, a Kashmiri lawyer has said has “no space for a diaspora Kashmiri whose parents do not have an existing certificate of permanent residence, to obtain domicile without living in the region for 15 years or serving the Indian government for 10 years.”

Presently a Weidenfeld-Hoffman scholar at Oxford, Beg said: “Effectively, the child of an Indian citizen from any part of the country is eligible, even if the child has never lived in Kashmir, but the child of a diasporic Kashmiri may not be eligible if the parent does not possess an existing certificate of residence.”

Huge Rush

Though the exact numbers are not known, the last leak suggested the administration received nearly 33000 applications since May 18 against which over 25,000 domicile certificates were issued. The rush was mostly in 10 Jammu districts – 32000. Doda alone issued 8,500 certificates. This district, like many others, has a delicate demographic composition with Muslims comprising 53.81 per cent and Hindus 45.76 per cent.

Rajouri having 62.71 per cent Muslim population issued 6220 certificates.

Kashmir, however, was lukewarm where only 435 certificates were issued against 720 applications.

LT Governor GC Murmu was called on by a delegation of the Valmikis for thanking him for extending the domicile rights to them after many decades. Photo: DIPR

The initial batch of applications included 66 officers including 38 who are non-residents. Senior IAS officer Navin Kumar Choudhary, a resident of Darbhanga in Bihar, became the first one to receive his domicile certificate declaring him the resident of Jammu and Kashmir. His certificate, now many think was released on social media deliberately to settle some “personal scores.”

Kumar, however, was major news for acquiring a new status. However, Amit Kushari, a retired IAS officer of Jammu and Kashmir cadre – who spent 37 years in the state, while congratulating Navin and his wife Amita, for the feat, wrote on his Facebook: “But even if that certificate was given to me on a silver plate, how cud I take it? That certificate wud have been soaked in the tears of my Kashmiri /Jmmuite bros?”

Other than officials, the certificates were provided to the people, including West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) and Valmikis, a small population of the municipal workers who were invited by Jammu and Kashmir government and settled in the erstwhile state almost forty years back.

A report in The Indian Express, there are around 20,000 WPRs in Jammu and Kashmir. Officials, however, said they are somewhere between 2.5 and 5 lakhs.

Migrant Workers

The 2011 census report reveals that the population of migrants in Jammu and Kashmir was 28.09 lakh in Kashmir, this includes 2.90 lakh workers in Ladakh). Out of these around 141401 were seasonal migrants who live in Jammu and Kashmir for less than a year, 352840 were short term migrants who live from one to four years, 334868 as medium-term migrants who live from 5 to 9 years, 1404354 as long term migrants who are settled from last 10 years or above and 576166 are unaccounted, reported a newspaper.

A significant number of these migrant workers are living in Jammu for more than 20 years. They have ration and Adhaar cards and some of them even have the fake permanent residence certificates (PRC), said Firdous Ahmad Tak, spokesperson of People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The Fear

Feroz Ahmad, 52, was confined to the four walls of his house in Jammu city during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Mulling ways to save his family and men at his industrial unit, he was taken aback when the government announced the new domicile law. He expected it but did not know the timing.

“They did all this just because they wanted to settle outsiders in Jammu and Kashmir,” Feroz, a resident of Chenab Valley, said. “They wanted to erode the basic structure of the region so as to punish us for enjoying the autonomous status we once had.”

Muneer Ahmad, a resident of Pir Panchal area, believes that in this game Jammu is emerging as the loser. “They are losing everything at the cost of satisfying their egos of punishing Kashmiris,” he said.

LT Governor GC Murmu meeting a delegation of West Pakistan refugees after the domicile certificate systems were announced. They thanked the government for ending their wait for the rights. Photo: DIPR

There is a fear of demographic change in the erstwhile state as new classes of people were made eligible for domicile status. Jammu and Kashmir was India’s only Muslim majority state in the 2011 headcount where 68.31 per cent of 12.5 million population is Muslim.

Otherwise a hectic process, the new rules are intended to offer an accelerated path to citizenship. “Now it has been made very easy, possibly to ease the process for non-locals,” said a journalist wishing anonymity.

An Unhappy Jammu

Recalling the roots of the State Subject law in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, PDP’s Tak said the Maharaja had introduced the law to save the Jammu region. “The onslaught of Punjab was on Jammu and not the Chenab Valley or Kashmir region. But now it is not there which means the Jammu has to face the major brunt.  The outsiders will come to Jammu and buy the properties for work, which means they will give the competition to the business of Jammu, jobs will go from the Jammu people’s kitty. The outsiders have already taken the road project, which used to be bagged by the locals.” Tak was a member of the erstwhile state’s legislative council, a house that was abolished.

Hari, a Jammu resident of Jammu feels “betrayed”. “We are not happy with this decision. They will be taking our land and jobs. We were happy that the WPRs who are living here since 1947 would get citizenship. Or for that matter the Valmikis who are living with us since 50s and the Gorkhas as well but by getting outsiders they have played with our emotions.”

A senior politician from Jammu, wishing to remain anonymous, said that most probably the delimitation and the elections will be done on the basis of the last census in 2011.

“There was a huge difference in the actual number of population in Kashmir than what was seen in the census. The leadership in Jammu is also claiming that distribution of seats under delimitation will be changed, reserved seats for Kashmir will be increased under SC/ST quota, some seats will be added in Jammu sub urban places and then the most important thing they are selling is that they will get a Jammu based Hindu Chief Minister to befool masses.”

A Chenab Valley-based political analyst said that for people living in the region, the fear is that the government land might be taken over to set up housing units which will be distributed among non-residents.

People do expect that if any investment comes into Jammu and Kashmir, it will be restricted to the plains of the region because of the proximity with the market and the facilities. “Who will invest in Kashmir,” he asked, insisting, “yes only tourists huts can come up.”

Political Parties Speak

By and large the reactions from the political class post-August 5 last year have remained guarded. The last time politicians met was at the residence of Dr Farooq Abdullah where “Gupkar Declaration” was passed. But before they could proceed, all of them were put under detention.

Though many of these leaders have since been released, they have maintained a studied silence. It is only recently that some parties have started issuing statements.

A proponent of autonomy, the National Conference (NC) termed the new law as “illegal and unconstitutional.” The party president, Dr Farooq Abdullah, an incumbent MP from central Kashmir, who was booked under PSA after August 5, said that the law is not acceptable to the people.

“When we are saying that we are united against everything that they have done, which is illegal, unconstitutional, how do you think am I going to accept what is unconstitutional,” Abdullah said in Anantnag.

His son and former chief minister Omar Abdullah who had avoided commenting on political issues said NC could see through the “nefarious designs” behind the changes. In a Tweet, Omar said: “All our misgivings about the new domicile rules in J&K are coming to the fore. We in @JKNC_ opposed the changes because we could see the nefarious design behind the changes. The people of J&K on both sides of the Pir Panchal mountains will be the sufferers of these domicile rules.”

Senior most NC leader Ajay Sadhotra refused to talk on the domicile law saying that his party has challenged the Reorganisation Bill 2019 which was passed in the Parliament after August 5, so he cannot talk on matters which are sub-judice.

“We believe in the rule of law. When the matter is in the highest court, Supreme Court of India, then how can BJP come up with a new law. They should have respected the sentiments of people and should have waited for the verdict of the apex court. But they did it in haste showing that they wanted to fulfil their agenda,” he said.

Their party chief spokesman, Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi has said that the party unequivocally rejected the “unconstitutional and anti-people process of grant of domicile certificates to outsiders” and demanded the immediate revocation of the law. “The first and foremost casualty of this process will be our jobs and the landholdings, which were earlier reserved for the permanent residents of J&K irrespective of their religion or region. This measure is aimed at disempowering “permanent residents politically and economically,” said Mehdi.

A file photo of senior leaders of mainstream political parties during a meeting before August 5, 2019.

The other regional party, People Democratic Party (PDP) stated: “As the agenda unfolds, it becomes clear that along with the intended demographic change, the target is the jobs, natural resources, cultural identity and everything that the people of Kashmir had tried to save by acceding to India with firm constitutional guarantees.”

PDP’s Tak while talking to Kashmir Life said that his party’s official stand is clear that whatever has happened post-August 5 in Jammu and Kashmir is “unconstitutional and fraud.”

“It is a clear invasion on the rights of people and we are not going to compromise or accept anything which has come from Delhi after August 5,” he said. “It is an attempt at equalling the population of Muslims and Hindus,” Tak thinks.

“They are fudging with the figures to remove the Jammu and Kashmir from the world map as the Muslim majority state of India.”

While calling it a “morally and ethically wrong” move, the Congress vice-president of Jammu and Kashmir GN Monga said the new domicile rules went against the wishes and aspirations of the people of J&K.

“The government must wait till the Supreme Court decides the petitions challenging abrogation of Article 370. The court’s decision on petitions challenging the central government’s decision to read down Articles 370 and 35A is still pending,” he said.

While expressing his concern over the issuance of domicile certificates to non-locals, the chairman of the newly formed People’s Democratic Front, Hakeem Yaseen has urged the authorities to put the whole process on hold till the petition challenging abrogation of Article 370 was decided by the Supreme Court.

He urged the MPs from Jammu and Kashmir to move a private member’s Bill in the Parliament to highlight the concern of people that new domicile laws and changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir were against the will of people.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and four-time MLA from Kulgam, said the Domicile Law is part of an “old RSS project.”

“The BJP government wants to reshape Jammu and Kashmir and for that, the RSS has been consistent in trying to project the present demography as a problem, thereby, suggesting changes. This has been their agenda since Syama Prasad Mookerji. Domicile law is essentially the first step in that direction. Whatever is being done is done without discussions or taking any population of the erstwhile state into confidence,” he said.

Tarigami added that if one revisits history, it was Jammu and primarily non-Muslims – the Kashmiri Pandits and the people of Jammu – who raised the issue of a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC).

The migrant Kashmiri Pandits too have a concern. Coming together under the banner of ‘Reconciliation, Return and Rehabilitation of migrants’, they said that their community should be rehabilitated first before giving the domicile certificates.

“It seems that the government of India is busy in pleasing non-residents and other refugees at the cost of Kashmiri Pandits. The present government had said that the migrant and displaced Kashmiri Pandits will be rehabilitated in ten districts of the valley. But so far there has been no movement in this regard,” reads the statement.

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