New Domicile Law in J&K

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By Mir Junaid 

In view of removal of Article 370 of Indian constitution by the Indian parliament on August 5th, 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs recently issued an order that inter alia substitutes the term “permanent resident” with “domiciles of UT of J&K” (new “Kashmir domicile law).This has become the talk of the town in both Jammu region and Kashmir valley, which are now constituent parts of the newly created Union Territory of J&K. The new Kashmir domicile law effectively speaking takes the power of defining “permanent resident” from the erstwhile assembly of the state of J&K and instead introduces a new category of “domiciles” of the UT of J&K. 

In addition to including West Pakistan Hindu refugees living in Jammu and children of women from J&K married to non- locals as “domicile”, the new Kashmir domicile law also extends the benefit of availing access to government jobs and right to buy property in the UT of J&K to such people as those former “non state subjects” who have spent 15 years 

of continuous residence in J&K and students who have studied for seven years and taken their 10th and 12th class board exam in J&K. 

The fact is that the former definition of “permanent resident” of the state of J&K was indeed discriminatory, regressive and tilted against marginalized and vulnerable communities of the former state of J&K like Hindu Dalits, Hindu refugees from West Pakistan and children of women of J&K married to non-locals and the new Kashmir domicile law indeed removes those shortcomings. However, there remains a massive opposition to the new Kashmir domicile law by almost all J&K based regional political parties including National Conference, PDP, Panthers Party as well as national political parties like Congress, Communist parties etc., mainly on the ground that the new law will facilitate the so called “demographic change” in the UT of J&K, an euphemism for the fear of settling non J&K Hindu residents from mainland India in J&K and thereby changing the so called “Muslim majority” character of the UT. 

There are however many flaws in this argument, which is driven more out of local electoral politics rather than the truth prevailing on the ground. First of all, not all parts of the UT of J&K are so called “Muslim majority”. There are nearly 4 million Hindus including Kashmiri Pundits and Dogra Hindus as well as sizeable section of Sikhs and Christians who live in both Jammu region as well as Kashmir valley. The four districts of Jammu including Kathua, Samba, Udhampur and Jammu city have Hindu majority and Hindus & Sikhs together form a sizeable minority in other districts like Reasi, Doda and Kishtwar. So, this argument of the so called “Muslim Majority” character of the UT of J&K is not entirely correct, statistically speaking. 

The UT of J&K is ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse territory of many ethnic groups, who share distinct cultures and languages. While it is true that Islam is the dominant faith in Kashmir valley and parts of Jammu region like Pir Panjal and Chenab valley, the Muslim community of J&K is not a monolithic entity. An ethnic Koshur Muslim from Kashmir valley shares no cultural, linguistic and ethnic similarity with Muslim communities from Jammu like Pahari Muslims and Muslim tribal communities of Gujjar & Bakarwals. While culturally, there is a “Koshur character” and “Duggar character” of Kashmir valley and Jammu region respectively, the notion of “Muslim character” is a politically driven myth propagated largely by the electoral considerations of the political parties. Nearly two centuries of the existence of J&K, first as a princely state and then as a state within the union of India did not alter the demography of the so called Muslim majority” parts of the J&K even when millions of non-Muslims like Hindu and Sikh Dogras from Jammu region had the legal and constitutional right to settle down in large numbers in so called “Muslim majority” Kashmir valley. People regardless of their religion prefer to live among communities that share similar culture and language and not the similar religion. Kashmiri Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims together constitute a unitary cultural entity rather than Hindu Dogras and Kashmiri Pundits or Kashmiri Muslims and Pahari, and Gujjar & Bakarwal Muslims. 

This in effect means that if tomorrow many of the so called non- residents of J&K who are now entitled to acquire the “domicile” of the UT of J&K may still not opt to do so as they would prefer to live in the UT of J&K only for employment purposes but not for long term residency. Why would a migrant laborer from states like Bihar, UP, Orissa or West Bengal, who has been working for more than 15 years in Kashmir valley like to settle permanently in Kashmir valley, whose culture and language is so different from that of his or her own states like Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal etc.? Many Kashmiri Muslims are working in Muslim majority middle eastern gulf countries and yet they are not legal citizens of these Arab nations even though both Kashmiris and Arabs are mainly Muslims. These Kashmiri Muslims, live in Arab nations for decades, earn their livelihood, collect their savings and then eventually return back to Kashmir valley. So why wouldn’t a migrant laborer from Bihar and Orissa also not do the same? 

Why do we already presume that these non-local migrants would in all certainty, apply for the “domicile” of the UT of J&K and since most of them happen to be Hindus, they would eventually change the so called “Muslim majority” character of J&K? Forget about a Hindu Bihari, Bengali and Oriya migrant laborer, I am certain that not even a Muslim Bihari, or Oriya migrant laborer, who are working in Kashmir valley for decades would rush to acquire J&K UT’s “domicile”, given how little is there a cultural and linguistic similarity between a Bengali or a Bihari Muslim and a Muslim from Kashmir valley. 

This fear mongering of losing the so called “Muslim majority” tag is nothing but a politically motivated discriminatory and regressive cry by the local political parties of J&K and few national parties, who want to cater to their electoral constituencies by diving the people of the J&K on religious lines. 

We are living in a fast changing and dynamic world, where people move around freely and thereby add value and help economies of their host regions. The protectionist measures like the former concept of “permanent residency” in the erstwhile state of J&K are outdated concepts not in line with the modern human cultural values and the need for growing economy. Besides if a non-resident person does indeed opt to go for the “domicile” of the UT of J&K, the presumption would be that he has over the period of time been accustomed to the culture and language of Kashmir valley or Jammu region and is now part of the same. Kashmiri/ Dogri language and Kashmiri/Duggar culture is not the sole monopoly of ethnic Koshur people and if so called “outsiders” imbibe the local traits of Kashmiri or Duggar culture, then why should they be stopped from acquiring domicile in the UT of J&K, solely because they are ethnically not from J&K? If for example, “non local” people were stopped from being part of Kashmir valley for example, then several ethnic groups from Central Asia like Greeks, Turks, Afghans etc., would never have come and settled in Kashmir valley and thereby eventually evolving into a modern day ethnic Koshur Kashmiri. 

I would therefore argue that, we the people of the UT of J&K need to leave our narrow minded and overly racist notions of citizenship and instead adopt a more pragmatic and modern human notions of community and citizenry that is not discriminatory. 

(Mir Junaid is an alumni of law school, university of Kashmir. He’s the president of Jammu Kashmir Workers Party (JKWP). His areas of special interest are grass-root governance, gender justice and policy making. He can be reached at: junaidjawaidmir@gmail.com. He tweets @MirJunaidJKWP)