Amid Kashmiri Fears of Demographic Change, Govt Starts Issuing Contentious Domicile Certificates

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Commuters are stopped by security personnel after the government imposed restriction on movement as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Srinagar March 19, 2020. — File photo

Omar Abdullah sees a ‘nefarious design’ behind the move, his party terms it ‘Unconstitutional’

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India 

SRINAGAR — Almost 11 months after the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi unilaterally abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional protection, the authorities in the region have begun the process of handing out domicile certificates even as the politicians and civil society members have opposed the process and the domicile rules that allow outsiders to apply for jobs, admissions and buy land.

The reports that emerged this week have said nearly 25,000 people, including Naveen Chaudhary, an Indian Administrative Service officer from Bihar, have already been issued the certificate  in the past few weeks.

In April, the Home Ministry of the central government passed a controversial rule that makes persons residing in Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years eligible to get domicile of the union territory. The rules were issued eight months after the abrogation of special constitutional protection. Before that only the natives of Jammu and Kashmir (defined as permanent residents by state legislature) were eligible for jobs and land rights.

The certificate issued by the revenue officer in Jammu district reads Chaudhary, a resident of “Gandhi Nagar Jammu is a domicile of UT of J&K”. His eligibility is ascertained by Rule 5 of the Jammu and Kashmir Grant Domicile Certificate (Production) Rules, 2020, the certificate adds.

On Friday when the photograph of the certificate issued to Chaudhary emerged on the social media, the reaction started pouring in with most people expressing their resentment signalling a fear that the process is aimed at making demographic changes in the disputed land on the style of Palestine Israel conflict.

Omar Abdullah, the former Chief Minister and leader of National Conference, the oldest political party in Kashmir, said that there was a “nefarious design” behind the change. Reiterating his party’s opposition to the domicile rules, he posted a Tweet saying, “The people of J&K on both sides of the Pir Panjal mountains will be the sufferers of these domicile rules.”

His party termed the process “unconstitutional”. Ruhullah Mehdi, NC spokesperson, said the domicile rules are unacceptable to his party aimed at “disempowering” the natives . In a statement, Mehdi said: “The first and foremost casualty of this process will be our jobs and the land holdings which were earlier reserved for the permanent residents of J&K irrespective of their religion or region.”

Dr Mubeen Shah, a businessman and a prominent member of Kashmir’s civil society, referred to an article in The Wire as he wrote on Twiiter, “This domicile law will change the demographic situation in Kashmir.”

On August 5 last year, when the government changed Kashmir’s status, Dr Shah was among thousands of people who were detained by police. He was slapped with the draconian Public Safety Act and sent to jail thousands of kilometers away from Kashmir. He spent several months in prison before he was released owing to international pressure. His name came up during a congressional session on Kashmir in November last year. US Senator Pramila Jayapal had asked whether the State Department raised his detention with Indian government.

Now out of jail, he is mobilising the opinion asking people in Kashmir to fight against “settler colonialism”. “It’s most important for all Kashmiris to come together at this very important stage and collectively fight against settler-colonialism. It’s now or never. It’s do or die. All of us have to join hands and fight now!” he wrote on his Facebook account.

There is a strong feeling among the youth that domicile rules will further aggravate the unemployment crisis in the state. Zahid Parvaaz Chaudhary, a youth activist from Gujjar Community in Jammu, while speaking with Clarion India on the domicile rules, said the Bharatiya Janata (BJP) government is using force and power to enforce “black laws”. “They are  leaving the youth of Jammu and Kashmir crippled and turning them into slaves.”

Chadhary, while saying that domicile law is unacceptable to youth, added:  “We are angry and unhappy with  the anti-people policies of the government. We will fight against these laws together.”

According to a report in Tribune India, Jammu division has received a whooping 32,000 applications for domicile certificates. Doda district in the picturesque chenab valley where half of the population is Muslim, have issued 8,500 certificates followed by Rajouri (6,214), Poonch (6,123) and Jammu (2,820).

In Kashmir valley, officials have received only 720 applications with highest in Pulwama -153. In Srinagar district, no one is yet in possession of domicile  certificate.

However, the process is expected to pick up pace as the government published an advertisement of over 8,000 class IV jobs in various government departments. The applications for this will be received from mid-July. One of the eligibility criteria for applying for these jobs is that the aspirants have to show the domicile certificates. Since the advertisement was put out, a revenue official in Kupwara, who did not wish to be named, said he has received calls from people asking him the procedure to apply for getting domicile certificates.

The pace at which the new rules are being put into practice have baffled the people due to the past experience of administration being lazy at delivery of public services. This further indicates the larger sinister motives of the whole process Irfan Mehraj, a journalist based in Srinagar expressed his surprise when he came across the news that the administration has issued 25,000 certificates in just one month. “I have never  seen such swift delivery of government services in Kashmir.”

Add to this the rule that says if a tehsildar fails to issue the certificate in time, the official will be fined Rs 50,000 from his salary as a punishment. This further indicates the larger sinister motives of the whole process.

Political experts say the government is taking advantage of the Covid crises to implement the “controversial  policies”. They say the administration should be focusing all their energies on public health to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has so far claimed over 90 lives and infected over 6,000 people in Jammu and Kashmir. “The fact that the Modi regime brought a new controversial domicile rule and then fast tracked the process in J&K during the crisis strongly indicates that this is being done to execute Sangh’s ideologically-driven agenda for Kashmir, i.e, altering its demography,” Dr Tahir Firaz, a Kashmiri academic based in Dublin, Ireland, told Clarion India in a telephonic Chat. “Sangh sees Muslim-majority of J&K as a barrier in realisation of its exclusivist Hindu Rashtra.”

 

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