Abrogation of Article 35A exposes myth of ‘outsider’ invasion in J&K

An influx of migrants into Kashmir has always been a major cause of contention for the Kashmiri leadership. But, the fact is, no one from the rest of India, including Buddhists from Ladakh, has ever made any attempts to settle in the Valley in the last 72 years.

Before the partition of India, the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh– a Hindu ruler of the Muslim-dominated region–introduced a law which disqualified women of Jammu and Kashmir as ‘permanent residents’ of the state if they married any non-permanent residents.

The law was brought in as an economic protectionist measure against the influx of populations from neighbouring Punjab, which then was under British colonial rule. The law was inserted as Article 35A in the Indian Constitution through a presidential order in 1954, eight years after Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India through the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947.

The Article 35(A) empowered Jammu and Kashmir’s legislature to define the state’s ‘permanent residents’, and their special rights and privileges. The Jammu and Kashmir’s Constitution, which came into existence in 1956, retained the Dogra law prohibiting non-permanent residents from ‘permanent settlement’ in the state, acquiring immovable property, getting government jobs, scholarships and aid. The law even barred refugees from then-West Pakistan living in Jammu and Kashmir and acquiring subject rights in the region.

The law, was, however, overruled in 2002 by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

But the Court’s verdict that favoured limited gender neutrality evoked brazen patriarchal reactions from regional political parties. Both, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) tried their best to subvert the verdict by passing new legislation to disqualify the women who married ‘outsiders’.

Since then, the Kashmiri leadership has been arguing that Article 35A in their state should be left alone. But such regressive laws in India exist only because of xenophobic tendencies and irrational fears about ‘an invasion’ (both sociopolitical and economic) of ‘outsiders’, which holds no basis in reality.

The common refrain today is that the influx of migrants from India will unleash demographic change and dilute the religious identity of Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.

The fact is, neither Hindus of Jammu nor Buddhists of Leh, despite being state subjects of Jammu and Kashmir, have made any attempts to settle in the Valley in the last 72 years.

On the other hand, while the Kashmir militancy in the 1990s had evicted its entire indigenous minority, including Kashmiri Pandits, Muslims have also moved out in massive numbers from the region and settled not only in Jammu but also in other cities like Kochi, Kolkata and Jaipur.

Both the Houses of the Parliament have voted in favour of the resolution abrogating Article 370, which provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and Article 35 (A).

The bill to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir with legislature and Ladakh without legislature — also got the Parliament’s nod.

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