by Syed Suhail Yaqoob
Naya-Kashmir Manifesto gave sweeping rights to women in Jammu and Kashmir, much before the United Nations Guaranteed Human Rights to every male and female came into being.
August 5, 2019, will be remembered as one of the dark days in the pages of Kashmir’s history. On this day the government of India, unilaterally, abrogated Article 370 which in theory, not in practice, gave the state some kind of autonomy. From the beginning, however, the Article was vehemently opposed by the Hindu right-wingers led by Syama Prasad Mukherjee. In fact, one of their slogans was Eik Pradan, eik Nishan, which implies ‘One nation, one flag’. This idea found good support in the Jammu region.
A look at the history of nineteenth-century will clearly reveal that autonomy always existed even in the British era. The British had proposed certain sections whereby Dogra monarchy was provided internal autonomy. Furthermore, the Dogra monarchy from time to time established certain rules that provided guarantees to citizens in the state.
For instance, Maharaja Hari Singh announced that the land acquisition would remain restricted to citizens of the state. The minorities in Jammu and Kashmir were finding themselves in a precarious position given the competition from Muslims of Punjab. In fact, the slogan of ‘Kashmir for Kashmiri’s’ was started by minorities of Kashmir. The article 35 (A) has its genesis before Indian independence. The position of minorities changed after 1947 when power shifted towards the majority population.
Revolutionary Land Reforms?
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was at the forefront of Kashmir’s independence from Dogra monarchy. Perhaps Sheikh’s and his party’s greatest contribution was the publication of Naya Kashmir Manifesto which was both progressive and revolutionary in nature. The manifesto aimed at, besides other things, to ameliorate the conditions of peasants. Thousands of acres of land was distributed among the peasants under the Big Lands Abolition Act 1950.
The intervention remained contentious during that period because the land was taken from non-Muslims and distributed among Muslims. Further, the government took away the land without compensating to the landlords. This was the most important and crucial feature of the act. Although the Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel tried to intervene on behalf of non-Muslims they could not prevail on the state authorities. The reasons include the arrangement between the centre and the state whereby land reforms were exclusively the domain of the latter. Some commentators have suggested that not taking Nehru into confidence about land reforms and its effective implementation increased the animosity and differences between the two. The land reforms were effectively implemented although the allegations of corruption and nepotism remained.
The land reforms proved to be crucial for the development of Jammu and Kashmir. The data brings out the significance of the land reforms. The Socio-Economic and Caste Census of 2011, which acknowledged and counted landlessness as a major indicator of poverty put the ‘households with no land’ at 56.41 per cent of total rural households or 101 million households in India.
In contrast, in Jammu and Kashmir, more than 95 per cent of households own land. The most striking part is that around 23 per cent of labourers in India are landless whereas the figure stands at less than 2 per cent in Jammu and Kashmir.
No doubt that due to effective implementation of land reforms the state is one of the most egalitarian sub-economies where income inequality coefficient is close to 0.22. In India, the same income inequality coefficient was 0.45 in 2004-05. It has increased by 15 % between 1993-94 and 2004-05 in India. The poverty ratios are 10% and 25% in the Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India, respectively.
Furthermore, the state occupies the third position when life expectancy at birth is concerned just a notch below Delhi and Kerala. The data shows that Jammu and Kashmir stand in the finest position as the rest of India.
The unilateral abrogation of Article 370 and 35 (A) however will increase the risk of land grabbing in the state. It will impede the progress and development of peasants in the state.
Women and Article 370
The most important point that the BJP government made was that Article 370 was biased towards women in the state. The facts reveal otherwise. In fact, Article 370 did not in any way intervene in the progress and development of women.
According to National Family Health Survey-4, the percentage of adult women who were literate was around 70 per cent in Jammu and Kashmir whereas it is only 65 per cent at all India level. The jump in literacy rate among women was 13 per cent between 2001 and 2011 census. The data further proves that women were not at all lagging behind. According to the same report, the total fertility rate was 2.0 and 2.24 in Jammu and Kashmir and in the rest of India, respectively. It speaks itself of the choices and opportunities available to women flock in the state.
The propaganda against Article 370 further falls flat when we sneak into the data. A nation is known by the manner it treats its women and also when it marries them.
Although India has certain laws that prohibit marriage of any girl before 18 years, however, still around 32 per cent of females are married before this age. This has serious consequences for women’s health, opportunities and her children. Worryingly, almost 15 per cent of the females get married before reaching the age of 16. Only 8.7 per cent of females were married before 18 years in the same year. In fact, the average age at which women marry in Jammu and Kashmir is 22 years against the all India average of 26 years.
The propaganda of using women for the abolition of Article 370 further lays bare when further data is taken into consideration. The institutional births were 85.7 per cent and the Body Mass Index below normal for women was 12.1 per cent in the state. The corresponding ratio was 78 per cent and 36 per cent respectively.
Moreover, in 2016, female life expectancy for Jammu and Kashmir was 76.2 years. The female life expectancy of Jammu & Kashmir increased from 71.9 years in 2011 to 76.2 years in 2016 growing at an average annual rate of 1.48%. In India, life expectancy is around 68 years of age. The life expectancy is a crucial indicator for human development of any country. The data clearly suggests that women were in a better position in the state compared to the rest of India.
Status of Women
Does article 370 prevent landownership of women in the state? The answer is clearly no. It is important to know the process of how the Article works. The article makes it sure that land ownership was transferred to the citizens of the state. A judgment in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court clearly established this position that a woman can own land.
However, she cannot transfer the ownership of land to the person who is not the citizen of the state. Although this seems to be against equality, however, many states in India have similar provisions whereby landownership cannot be transferred to outsiders for instance, in Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Telangana etc.
In Himachal Pardesh only an agriculturist belonging to the state can purchase agricultural land. The data which concerns land-ownership among women in India further creates problems for those who supported the abolition of Article 370.
According to the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (2011), only 12 per cent of women-owned land in India. Moreover, the Government of India although amended the Hindu Succession Act (2005) has not increased women’s landownership due to patriarchy in Indian society.
Moreover few people are aware of the rights that were enshrined in the Naya-Kashmir Manifesto whereby sweeping rights were provided to women in the state. It was even before when the United Nations Guaranteed Human Rights to every male and female in the world.
The unilateral abolition of Article 370 was surely not due to low economic and development indicators in the state. Although it was eroded right after its inception it continued to be election plank for the BJP and its allies.
(The author is pursuing PhD at Aligarh Muslim University in Economics with a focus on gender. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)