Scared of the growing influence of West Punjab Muslims in Kashmir, the Kashmiri Pandits launched a movement for state subject laws. They were under a mistaken notion that West Punjab Muslims would settle here, seek share in government employment, purchase land and drive them out. The Hindus (Dogras) expressed similar concerns. The State Subject Law was ultimately framed in 1927.
The legislation became revered for all the communities in due course of time. A few months after its coming into being, some people tried to get the state subject certificate through illegal means. Noted freedom fighter, GN Gilkar prevented it by forming the State Subject Protection Committee and launched a massive agitation. So Muslims did not want outsiders to settle in Kashmir. They supported a law which was a brainchild of Pandits.
In May 1954, the government of India led by Jawahar Lal Nehru amended the Article 35 of the constitution. Article 35-A was added much to the displeasure of the most of the parliamentarians especially from the right wing. The new Article was enforced in Jammu & Kashmir through the Constitution (Application to Jammu & Kashmir) Order, May 1954.
Article 35A reads: "Saving of laws with respect to permanent residents and their rights: Notwithstanding anything contained in this (Indian) Constitution, no existing law in force in the State of Jammu & Kashmir, and no law hereafter enacted by the Legislature of the State – (a) defining the classes of persons who are, or shall be permanent residents of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, or (b) conferring on such permanent residents any special rights and privileges or imposing upon other persons any restrictions as respects (i) employment under the State Government; (ii) acquisition of immovable property in the State; (iii) settlement in the State; or (iv) right to scholarships and such other forms of aid as the State Government may provide, shall be void on the ground that it is inconsistent with or takes away or abridges any rights conferred on the other citizens of India by any provision of this part".
This Article empowered the state government to deny citizenship rights to the refugees from West Pakistan and all other Indians, barring Permanent Residents of the State. Armed with absolute power, the Jammu & Kashmir Constituent Assembly adopted Section 6 which said no persons who had crossed over to the state after May 1944 will be considered eligible for citizenship rights.
In fact, Section 6 meant two things: Denial of citizenship rights to the Indians who were not Permanent Residents of the State as per the definition of Permanent Resident of the State and provision to grant full citizenship rights to those who migrated from the State to Pakistan on or after March 1, 1947 and adopted Pakistani citizenship in case they returned to Jammu & Kashmir (meaning Muslims).
A petition challenging the Article is pending adjudication in the Supreme Court. It has been listed for hearing on August 29. Anything can happen. The Supreme Court has the powers to strike down the law. It need not seek the consent of the legislative assembly of the state. There is other possibility as well. The apex court may dismiss the petition.
A question arises? Who needs this legislation? The Kashmir Valley is in turmoil. Panidts have already migrated from here. Almost all the Sikhs have constructed houses in Jammu. A good number of Muslims have also left, meaning thereby, the valley is not a good place for outsiders to settle down, at least for the time being.
The migrant Pandits are getting diluted. The Saraswat Brahmin is fast losing his identity. He is lost in a huge ocean of Indian population. Notwithstanding the packages offered by various governments, he is perceived as an intruder and even a head ache. He is not welcome even in Jammu. A Pandit leader while addressing the migrants a few years ago in Jammu urged them to converse in Kashmiri, prefer namkeen (salt) tea and avoid inter-caste marriages. This reflects the mindset. The community is seriously concerned about its identity. They have to take measures now. Kashmiris cannot live outside Kashmir.
Similarly the Dogras are different from rest of the Hindu population in India. If Article 35-A goes, the people from India will come and purchase land preferably in Jammu which, according to some people, is relatively calm. And, if it happens, the Dogras too may be added to the list of `endangered species'.
The people in Ladakh are more concerned about their identity than anybody else in the state. They cannot afford to lose Article 35-A. So, more than Kashmiri Muslims, it is the Pandits, Dogras and the people of Ladakh who need Article 35-A. The sooner they understand it the better.
Times have changed and so has the situation. If the state subject law was a shield for Pandits and Dogras in 1927, it cannot be a curse now. The Muslims supported it then and are serious about its protection now.