Amid COVID-19 crisis, new domicile law triggers fears of demographic change in J&K
Much like the revocation of Article 370, the domicile law has been issued without taking J&K's public and political opinion on board. This has created a sense of political disempowerment among the people. Deepening this hapless feeling is the fact that there is no political leader in Kashmir in a position to stick his neck out.
At a time when the country is busy combating the coronavirus pandemic, the union government found time to introduce a new domicile law for J&K that is widely feared to have set in motion the process of demographic change in the union territory.
The law entitles any person who has resided in J&K for fifteen years to domicile status. The rule has been relaxed for central government officials who have served in the UT for ten years as also their children to qualify for domicile status. The rule is even more lenient for the students from outside the region, who have "studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10th/12th examinations".
What is more, it is now a tehsildar, not a district magistrate, who will be competent to issue a domicile certificate within his territorial jurisdiction.
Similarly, only low-ranking fourth class jobs have been reserved for the residents of J&K; for all other jobs candidates from other parts of the country can also apply.
This has turned on its head the recent assurances of a domicile law that barred outsiders from buying land and claiming local jobs. And these assurances had underpinned the post Article 370 politics led by a group of leaders headed by businessman turned politician Altaf Bukhari. Now they are also upset about the new law.
"This order is a casual attempt, cosmetic in nature, to hoodwink the people of Jammu and Kashmir who genuinely believed that post-October 31, 201 their rights in the matter of employment would remain as it had been," tweeted Bukhari whose Apni Party is believed to have been launched with the blessings of New Delhi.
Much like the revocation of Article 370, the domicile law has been issued without taking J&K's public and political opinion on board. This has created a sense of political disempowerment among the people. Deepening this hapless feeling is the fact that there is no political leader in Kashmir in a position to stick his neck out. Two former J&K Chief Ministers Dr Farooq Abdullah and the son Omar Abdullah have been largely silent since their recent release from months-long detention following the withdrawal of Article 370 in August last.
After his release on March 24, Omar had said he would not talk about Article 370 until the "life and death" war against coronavirus was won. He has since been largely talking about the need for people to observe precautions to overcome the disease. But after the Centre issued the new domicile law which more or less opens up Kashmir for settlement by outsiders, Omar's approach has come in for public criticism.
"If you put politics in abeyance citing pandemic, it doesn't mean others will give up their politics in pandemic," tweeted Naseer Ganai, a senior journalist.
Omar, meanwhile, has tweeted his disappointment at the law, terming it an "insult to the injury". His party National Conference has issued a stronger statement though, terming the law a "cruel joke on people".
“How cruel the law is for the people of J&K, when it paves way for a person, from anywhere in India, having studied here for 7 years or so, to claim domicile? Is it possible for a student studying in other States to have a similar stake there?" the party's spokesman Aga Ruhullah asked.
However, considering the far-reaching fallout of the new law on the demographic landscape of J&K, the situation in the UT has plunged into deep uncertainty. The move has already eroded any shred of legitimacy the new New Delhi blessed J&K politics might have enjoyed. It has also dented the credibility of the established mainstream politicians who are now blamed for bringing this upon the region by always siding with New Delhi. However, any visible expression of the public anger against the Centre is likely to be contained by the ongoing preoccupation with coronavirus. The situation may change once the pandemic is behind us.