On the intervening night of 4 and 5 August, the government snapped all lines of communication, including landline services, and eight million people of Kashmir Valley were put under restrictions.

“Restrictions have been imposed. We request everyone to not assemble outside and return inside their homes,” were the announcements made from the speaker mounted government forces’ vehicles.

One hour past noon on 5 August, an old man was sitting outside a shut ATM in the Srinagar’s downtown – where a poster on a closed shop’s shutter read “Save Article 35-A” – staring blank at the empty streets. The Kashmir Walla asked his views about the central government’s decision regarding Kashmir.

“What? [the] article 35-A has been abrogated already?” he replied, wondering. A couple of hours before that, Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, had proposed a bill for the reorganisation of the existing State of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The bill proposed a dip in the number of existing states in India from twenty-nine to twenty-eight, and an increase in the number of union territories (UT) from seven to nine – that is, bifurcation of the existing state of J-K into two new UTs – Union Territory of J-K and Union Territory of Ladakh (comprising Leh and Kargil districts).

With a couple of days, the bill was passed with overwhelming majority in both the houses of the parliament, and on 9 August, Ram Nath Kovind, the president of India, gave the final nod to the bill, making it – The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 (JKROA, 2019).

Under this act, the Lok Sabha’s six seats have been divided into five and one among the UT of J-K and UT of Ladakh, respectively.

JKROA, 2019, not once mentions the article 370, or the article 35-A, in 55 pages – which it scraps. The act opens door for 106 central laws to be made applicable in the UT of J-K and UT of Ladakh; amends seven state laws (mostly dealing with land matters); repeals 153 existing state acts and eleven governor’s acts; and leaves behind the last remnants of the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir – 166 acts.

What ceases to exist, what remains, and what is new for Kashmir? To find this answer The Kashmir Walla spoke to over a dozen of legal experts and government, as well as private, officials – though, the central theme that appeared around the corner is a sense of ambiguity.

We try to explore three subjects majorly in this article – the state commissions, legal aspects of land, and the dimensions of educational setup.

The Dissolution of an Acknowledgement

Photograph by Sanna Irshad Mattoo for The Kashmir Walla

An act passed in 1993 in the parliament called – Protection of Human Rights Act, aimed at constituting National Human Rights Commissions (NHRC), which also asked all the states to constitute a State Commission to exercise the aim – federally. Though, it exempted the state of J-K.

After four years, in 1997, the act called the Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act was passed by the state assembly – to meet the emerging need of a human rights body within the setup of the government.

The state act also similarly asks the government to constitute a body to be known as the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) – headed by a chairperson, a Judge of High Court.

However, JKROA, 2019 repeals this act and pushed the UT of J-K under NHRC – leading to dissolution of SHRC.

Other than the SHRC, the Act also leads to dissolution of a few more state commissions including State Information Commission, State Accountability Commission, State Commission for Women and Child Rights, State Consumer Redressal Commission, State Electricity Regulatory Commission, and State Commission for Disabilities.

A sheet of dust covers the stairs and ceiling in the premises of the SHRC headquarters in Srinagar. Inside his office, the current chairperson of the SHRC, Justice Bilal Nazki, 71, said that it was obvious for him, being a student of law, that his position was created under an act, and “now that act is gone – nothing exists of this commission.”

“All I know is that on 31st October – this institution ceases to exist,” he said. What follows after the dissolution is ambiguous to Justice Nazki.

Will the NHRC extend its jurisdiction to UT of J-K, or it creates a proxy mechanism to deal with the human rights cases from the UT is something that Justice Nazki is waiting to see with time, and as events unfold.

All he knows is that the “SHRC, was serving a good purpose” – though, he out rightly rejects to judge the performance of the Commission.

However, Khurram Parvez, 43, a human rights activist and a member of J-K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), believes, “SHRC was a tool from the government’s perspective to showcase the international community that there is a mechanism in Kashmir to watch human rights violations.”

Meanwhile, the relation between human rights cases, SHRC, and NHRC is complex. As per laws, SHRC didn’t had jurisdiction over armed forces, while NHRC did; NHRC didn’t had jurisdiction over J-K, while SHRC did; SHRC didn’t fell under the wings of NHRC – so NHRC didn’t care much about what SHRC had to say.

Dr. Noor M. Bilal, who is a retired professor of law, had written a paper in the late 1990s about “shacked nature of NHRC.” His belief that “SHRC was toothless – a puppy” lies in the “merely advisory role of the Commission – and not punitive.”

“Acknowledgement” – that’s how Mr. Parvez sums up the role of the SHRC. As per the data available with the SHRC office, since its inception they have dealt with 8529 cases, wherein 7725 were disposed while 1862 were recommended to the government for further action.

The allowance of ex-gratia amount or accepting a case was an admission in itself, Mr. Parvez believes, that a human right violation has been committed. In many of the JKCCS reports, the judgement from the SHRC was quoted. “We wanted that institution to improve, but at the same time we appreciate its accessibility,” said Mr. Parvez. “That won’t happen now – we don’t expect NHRC to be that way.”

An insider in the SHRC office suggests that after dissolution, it might become a sub-section of the NHRC, under its governance – retaining the current staff.

What Remains of Land laws?

A shepherd grazing cattle in a field in Pulwama, south Kashmir. Photograph by Bhat Burhan for The Kashmir Walla

Inside the premises of Srinagar Wing of High Court of J-K, standing next to a white-window on the first floor of Advocate Chamber’s building, a middle aged lawyer, Faizal Qadri, was explaining what changes – legally – in land related matters.

In the brief time between he could take another drag from his Classic cigarette and smoke it out of the white-window, an elderly man – overhearing his explanation – interrupted him.

“Is my state subject certificate still valid?” he asked.

“Yes, it is,” replied Mr. Qadri. The man stood caught up in his idea for the next couple of seconds. Mr. Qadri, to give a way to the conversation, added, “But, what would you do with it?”

“If not any special status – it proves that I’m a resident of Jammu and Kashmir,” the man wondered. “Yes, it does. But, Aadhar [card] could do the same,” added Mr. Qadri.

The Jammu and Kashmir Permanent Residents Certificate (Procedure) Act, 1963 – which defined the permanent residents of the then state of J-K – has been repealed in JKROA, 2019.

It nullifies all the clauses in all the acts of the constitution, which asked for the permanent residence proof for several government services and job opportunities – until any further special provision or amendment by the government, including purchasing of land or property.

It has sparked the much heated topic around the intent of centre behind revoking the special status of J-K, that is – demographic change.

Among the above mentioned seven governor’s act that stayed are The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, Agrarian Reforms Act 1976, The Transfers of Property Act, The Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, and the Jammu Kashmir Land Grants Act 1960.

Wherein the last three laws deal with the functionality of regulating the sale of land, change of land use, and land grants or leases handed out by government; although, there is an amendment cum change – different sections that barred non-residents of J-K from purchasing or dealing with lands have been removed.

Siddiq Wahid, who has a P.hd. from Harvard University in History, affirms that Kashmir has lost a lot of resources and other things in the past years of conflict – though, the sense of ownership over own land remained.

Kashmir has been an agricultural society – as per J-K Economic Survey of 2017, 70 per cent of people depended on agriculture, directly or indirectly.

“In Kashmir, the idea of identity is directly related to the land,” said Dr. Wahid. “The fact that BJP-RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] has taken it away – puts people in panic.”

However, the initial two laws – The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, Agrarian Reforms Act 1976 – hold a different chapter in the history pages, shaping the Kashmir’s land status today as we see it.

After 1947 dismantling of princely status of J-K, under the leadership of the then Prime Minister of J-K, Sheikh Abdullah, founder of National Conference, the jagirdari system was abolished – while the reforms on redistribution of land and equating the land rights (majorly inspired by the Soviet constitution and drafted by BPL Bedi in 1944) were carried out.

From the ceiling of land acquisition was fixed at 182 kanals under Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950, in 1975, under J-K Agrarian Reforms Act it was brought down to 100 kanals (excluding orchards).

Tweaking Educational Setup

A government forces’ vehicle stationed outside the Government College for Women, Nawakadal. Photograph by Sanna Irshad Mattoo for The Kashmir Walla

In the winter of 2018, Nisar Ahmad, 27, a resident of Srinagar finally had his share of joy – when he secured a government job as a teacher after clearing the competitive exam. Earlier, he worked in a private company earning a mere amount of 6000 rupees per month.

A postgraduate in arts, Mr. Ahmad had finally achieved what he “deserved” – though, it didn’t come easy for him. He had navigated his way through thousands of competitive candidates, burnt midnight oil to grab a 35,000 rupee per month job.

For him, and in Kashmir’s society, the idea of securing a government job is supposed to give a sudden spike in respect among the social circles. “Here, a government job means a certificate for many things like getting married,” said Mr. Ahmad.

However, Mr. Ahmad considers himself lucky as well as the opposite of that; JKROA, 2019 keeps the The Jammu and Kashmir Board of Professional Entrance Examination Act, 2002 and The Jammu and Kashmir State Board of Technical Education Act, 2002 in place. However, the eligibility criteria asking the applicant to be a permanent resident of J-K, as explained above, stands nullified.

Other than this, the central laws like the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutes Act, 2005, The National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993, The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, have been extended to the UT of J-K.

All the university acts, which grant them guidelines to function and operate, are largely to remain as they are.

Mr. Ahmad, however, has a government job – entitled to the latest governmental benefits including the seventh pay commission. But, his joyride hit a roadblock after realising that after the new amendments in the laws, he would have to fight with even more people if he wishes a further promotion.

The new laws will instil more panic in the already scarce government job status in Kashmir; less than four per cent population of the state have a government job, which are about 4.86 lakh people.

JKROA, 2019, changes more things than just profiling a potential candidate for teaching – it changes the appointment of the principle as well; opening door for non-local residents to apply for the position and hold the premier post in an educational institute.

Dr. Wahid, who was also a former Vice Chancellor (VC) of Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora, is of the opinion that the move to fiddle with the article 370 by the central government is to change the demography of the state and in particular of Kashmir.

“Tweaking with the education [system] is to change the demography of the state,” he said. “If you want to put it in a little more radical term – it is to dissolve Kashmir as a cultural entity.”

While the increased competition in the job profiling in education sector ensures better quality results, many educationist, including Dr. Wahid, believe that dimensions are different in regards to Kashmir.

“One has to go to the intent of the government in bringing this change in education,” he said. “The fact is to bring demographic changes – and it cannot be accepted by any society or culture.”

Back in 2016, following the Jawahar Lal Nehru (JNU) University controversy, wherein the allegations of “anti-national nature of protest” was highlighted – the educationist around the country noticed BJP changing the dimensions by replacing VC and system of appointment of professors and P.hd. scholars.

“The BJP has done it with JNU and other institutions in India,” said Dr. Wahid. “It is quite a possibility that they might do it in Kashmir as well.”

Although, for the teachers down the line, likes of Mr. Ahmad, the future is uncertain. “I had plans of going into higher secondary teaching and then eventually into a university,” said Mr. Ahmad. “But now, I don’t see that happening.”

This story originally appeared in the 28 October – 3 November 2019 print edition of The Kashmir Walla.

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