SRINAGAR: There are at least seven states in India where the rights to own land belong only to their “permanent residents”, Jammu and Kashmir being only one of them.
Syed Tassadq Hussain, senior advocate at JK High Court and an expert on constitution and international law, told Kashmir Reader that the legal and political moves against Article 35A have multiple objectives, the biggest of them being a change in the demography of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir.
“The attempt to change the demography of the state is central to BJP’s position on Kashmir,” the senior lawyer said.
“If we look at the recent move, a number of inferences can be drawn,” Hussain said. “One, it can be a tactical move to see how the people of JK will respond. Then the next move can be prepared accordingly. Two, it may be a strategy to garner votes in the 2019 (Lok Sabha) elections. I see these possibilities in anticipation of the petition (seeking repeal of Article 35A) being rejected. These new moves are of grave concern. Twenty years ago we could hardly imagine any such thing, but now we are being attacked and in the future we may be killed.”
Muhammad Ishaq Qadri, former Advocate General of JK, said the moves were meant to ‘obliterate’ Kashmiris and their identity. He told Kashmir Reader that the scrapping of Article 35A has been the agenda of the BJP since its inception.
“The case is clear. It is the Government of India who has to preserve the Article, but they seem not interested. Even after JK Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no statement came from him. It was Mehbooba who said that the PM has given assurance, but why has not the PMO’s office said nothing?” Ishaq said.
He said the petition against 35A is aimed at damaging the economy of the state, to make it dependent on the Indian state. It will open up opportunities that are currently reserved for JK’s state subjects, which will increase unemployment in the state. According to rough estimates, at present there are nearly 10 lakh unemployed youth in J&K.
“Provisions of Article 35(A) were initiated by Raja Hari Singh. If they are scrapped by the Supreme Court, it will end state subject laws. People from other states will gain access to property in the region, educational scholarships, and government jobs – things that Raja Hari Singh protected us from,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah said while addressing a gathering in Jammu.
Abdullah warned, “If this law is repealed, a day will come when you won’t find any anyone in government office able to understand your language.”
The scrapping of 35A can also lead at environmental degradation in J&K, as outsiders would take ownership of land and invest in construction and industries that could harm the fragile ecology of the state.
Professor Shakil Ramshoo, Head of Department of Earth Sciences at Kashmir University, said that any increase in industrial or construction activity will have an adverse impact on the environment of the state. “Whether the increase in activity is because of constructions or other reasons,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir is a land-locked Himalayan region known for its picturesque landscapes, snowcapped mountains, and numerous water bodies. The Dal Lake, a principal tourist attraction, has already been plundered, despite the state government taking several measures for its protection. Similar has been the fate of the Wular Lake. The state witnessed devastating floods in 2014 and the main reason for them was the plundered environment.
‘Amarnath Yatra: A Militarized Pilgrimage’, a report on the environmental and economic impact of the Hindu pilgrimage on J&K, showed that the number of pilgrims has quadrupled in the past twenty years, and instead of helping the Kashmir economy it has only damaged the environment. What will the powers to own land for outsiders do to Kashmir?
Arif Ayaz Parray, a story writer and an editor at Delhi-based environmental magazine said that in a state like J&K, a restriction on land use is a great blessing. “Kashmir is imagined as a paradise by outsiders, to be entered and enjoyed without any remorse. Everything, including its citizens, are instruments of pleasure for these outsiders,” he said. “Now imagine a scenario in which these outsiders can buy property freely in Kashmir. They will come, build their hotels and restaurants – ‘pure veg’ – on the slopes of alpine forests, and lakes and river banks. They will make profits and then leave the chewed and dried-up places for the locals to deal with. The local petty bourgeoisie, howsoever money-minded, cannot leave such a legacy of ruin for the future generations.”