By Sushant Sareen
One year after the sweeping constitutional changes in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, the skies have still not fallen. All the hyperbole, hysterics and histrionics of the doomsday predictors, genocide watchers, demographic invasion theorists have come to nought. The putrid and puerile propaganda by the ignorant, the ignoble and the instigators has fallen flat.
Kashmir hasn’t exploded, as many had feared and some had hoped. There has been no exodus out of Kashmir – the single most important metric to judge if there is any egregious repression being unleashed on the population. Nor is there any influx into Kashmir – the only metric to measure if any forced demographic transformation is taking place. Far from snatching the rights of the people and disenfranchising them, the new constitutional arrangements have actually bestowed all the rights which all other Indian citizens enjoy. Life in newly created Union Territory (UT) – a temporary arrangement according to the Home Minister of India – is as normal as could be in these times of the Chinese Virus. In fact, just before the virus hit, most of the restrictions imposed at the time of the hollowing out of the contentious and controversial Article 370, had been lifted – markets were functioning, educational institutions had opened, communication links restored (except for 4G).
To be sure, making Article 370 redundant – it continues to exist in the Indian constitution – is not a magic wand that would overnight transform J&K. But it marks a tectonic shift away from the continuing drift in the affairs of the erstwhile state. It is a work in progress, and one year later not only is work happening, but the green shoots of progress are also becoming visible. The detractors of the move will of course see the glass half empty. They will pick on every incident to drive home the point that the entire exercise undertaken on August 5, 2019, was pointless, and a lot of what the government is claiming to have done could have been done without overturning the earlier constitutional system. The trouble with this argument is that it is just an argument. If things could have been done earlier, they would have been done. But the way the system was structured, it wasn’t possible to do many of the things that have now been initiated.
Because J&K, and in particular the Kashmir Valley, has not been normal for nearly three decades now, there has been a tendency to look at everything from the prism of security. The fact that in disturbed areas, the news equivalent of Gresham’s law operates – bad or negative news drives out or submerges the good or positive news – means that post-constitutional reform the focus has remained on the security situation, to the exclusion of the good things that are also happening. Take for instance the marginalised communities and vulnerable sections of society in J&K which for the first time have started benefiting from the affirmative action of the government. This has become possible because of the extension of nearly 900 central laws to the UT, repeal of nearly over 150 state laws and modifications in as many state laws. As a result of these legal reforms, the scheduled castes and tribes receive the same protection of law in the UT as they do in the rest of the country. What is more, children are entitled to free and compulsory education and senior citizens and parents are also protected under law.
Marginalised communities like the Paharis and the economically weaker sections have started receiving the benefits of 4% and 10% reservations respectively in jobs and educational institutions. Reservations for OBCs and residents living in the border regions have also started receiving enhanced reservation benefits. The Scheduled Tribes, another marginalised section of society, are now entitled to reserved seats in the legislative assembly. Refugees from West Pakistan who settled in the erstwhile state after Partition and who were denied domicile for decades have now received their domicile certificates entitling them to all the rights and privileges that other residents of J&K enjoy. Most of all, the legal reforms have empowered women and secured their property rights, including the right of women who have married outside the UT to bequeath their property to their children.