Ziraat Times Cover Story

Authors: Farooq Sopori and Ehtisham Malik

The prospects of the abrogation or modification of the Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution is witnessing an unprecedented resistance in Jammu & Kashmir. 

Among the many political, economic and social ramifications, Article 35-A is also about land – the land from which people of Jammu & Kashmir draw their livelihoods.  

If Article 35-A goes, one immediate consequence could be big commercial entities buying lands from small farmers across Jammu & Kashmir state and establishing large commercial farming ventures. Not only would that result in dispossession, that situation could create longer term challenges of big joblessness among rural youth, crimes and even violence.  

Learnings from other contexts in the world – like South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya – where big commercial farmers from outside took over subsistence land tell us that such takeover has immense negative social and economic repercussions. Such takeover are inherently unsettling and unsustainable too. 

Since 2011 about 50 conflicts erupted in Southeast Asia just because mining, logging or agribusiness giants took over land from indigenous peoples. Whether palm oil plantations in Indonesia, sugar farms in Cambodia, or hydroelectric dams in Myanmar, government-backed business ventures that drive local communities off their land tend to become festering hotspots.

A petition in the Supreme Court, challenging Article 35A, which bars non-J&K state subjects from buying property and applying for government jobs has soared anger and set tongues wagging across the state. An unprecedented protest strike call on August 5 and 6 was joined by farming and allied sectors’ communities. 

All the 27 major business and trade associations remain at the forefront of the protest movement.   

Ziraat Times this week reached out to a wide spectrum of  civil society opinion leaders to understand their thoughts and concerns on Article 35-A. 

Zaffar Shah (Senior Advocate, J&K High Court)

According to Zaffar Shah, senior advocate of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, the case against Article 35-A is aimed to dilute the special status of the state. 

“People in JK must know that this provision in the constitution is for the benefit of citizens of the state. It has four benefits, first  is that every citizen in J&K has state subject or we call permanent resident certificate. Therefore, nobody from outside J&K can buy property here, outsiders cannot get employment. If you see government job advertisements, there is a provision that every aspirant should be state subject and nobody from outside can buy property”, Mr Zaffar told Ziraat Times.

“Article 35-A has been added in the Constitutional Application Order 1954, and by questioning it, the entire order will have to be questioned’, he said, adding, “If the Court rules that these orders are invalid, this judgment will have to be made applicable to all the Constitutional Application Orders from 1950 till date. They have been used to issue provisions and make changes, which include — replacing the elected Sadr-e-Riyasat (President of the State) with a Governor chosen by the Centre; changing the ‘Prime Minister’ of the state to ‘Chief Minister’; extending the powers of the Supreme Court and Election Commission to Jammu and Kashmir; and preventing the State Assembly from making any amendments to the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution.”

Bashir Ahmad Basheer (Chairman, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers cum Dealers Union)

Chairman, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers cum Dealers Union, Bashir Ahmad Basheer, representing hundreds of thousands of fruit growers and dealers of Kashmir region, said “ there will be no compromise on Article 35A”. 

“We are committed to protect it at all costs. It is our national identity. If it is removed we will meet the same fate as Israel did to Palestine,” he said.

Sampat Prakash (Eminent trade union leader)

“As a patriot of my motherland, it is my duty and moral responsibility to raise voice against the threat of being robbed of our pride which is our special status,” says Sampat Prakash, a member of the Pandit community and a well known trade union leader.

He believes that irrespective of religion, all citizens of Jammu and Kashmir are one and will oppose any conspiracy being hatched in New Delhi to dilute our special status.

“ We will fight tooth and nail attempts to abrogate article 35- A, come what may.  For us, like fellow Muslim Kashmiris and Dogra brothers, state subject is amatter of life and death and fighting for it is as sacred as anything,” he said.

Prakash told these reporters at a protest in Lal Chowk, Srinagar, that the Pandit community has always performed vital role in defending the special status of the state, whenever a petition against its validity was filed in Supreme Court.

“History is the witness that the law was initiated in 1884 when Kashmir became apart of British Empire. This law is the outcome of struggle of my ancestors like Jia Lal Kilam, Professor Jia Lal Koul, Jia Lal Jalali and others who agitated during Pratap Singh’s regime to protect state’s special status,” he said.

Prakash claimed that he previously has defended the Article in 1969 in a case titled Sampat Prakash v/s Jammu and Kashmir.

Prof. C. L. Vishen (Prominent educationist and civil society member)

The petition to abrogate the special status of J&K is aimed to “dilute the Kashmiri civilization.”

“Someone is working in a systematic manner to take away our special status. It is better to be prepared and fight them head on. After this article, they will target Article 370 later. So we have to be strong and remain united to defeat their ill-designs. Kashmiri ethos and civilization is 5000 years old and known worldwide and we will never allow the evil forces to target our identity,” Prof. Vishen told these reporters at a protest meeting.

Muhammad Yaseen Khan (Chairman of his faction of Kashmir Economic Alliance)

Chairman of his faction of Kashmir Economic Alliance, Muhammad Yaseen Khan, speaking to Ziraat Times, opined “any attempt made to abrogate special status of J&K will mean open aggression. It is not only my personal opinion but of almost every person in the society. BJP-RSS led lobby is using judiciary to do certain things which they have failed to achieve in decades. Diluting special status is their election agenda and they can go to any extent for political mileage to do harm to it. But they must be wary of the fact that Kashmiris are ready to give blood to protect Article 35A.”

“Strike observed by people in Kashmir and some parts of Jammu in first week of August should serve as an eye opener to conspirators. It is not only people in Kashmir but there is resentment in Jammu too,” Khan said.  

Mubeen Ahmed Shah (Business leader and former president KCCI)

“Our protest is against interference. Everything in Kashmir will come to a standstill if Article 35-A is tinkered with,” said former president of Kashmir chamber of commerce and industries, Mubeen Shah.

On Sunday, 27 Kashmir-based trade bodies announced a week-long protest programme against “tinkering” of Article 35-A, which empowers the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define permanent residents and provide special rights and privileges to them.

Mushtaq Chaya (Chairman, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industries, J&K Chapter)

Chairman, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industries, J&K Chapter, Mushtaq Chaya said that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are one in their stand that there should be no tinkering with the Article 35A.

“Our forefathers have protected it and we too will protect it. There is no compromise on our stand to protect special status. It is our identity and we will fight tooth and nail for it,” Chaya told Ziraat Times.

Javed Ahmed Tenga (President, KCCI)

Our protest is against the “attempts to dilute the special status of the state, Mr Tenga told Ziraat Times. 

“We express our concern over the threat to abrogate Article 35A through mischievous scheming,” he said, adding the protests are being organised by several traders, business bodies and civil society groups.

He said that the businesses would not shy away from “shedding their blood” for protection of the special status granted to the state. Article 35A, which was incorporated in the Constitution by a 1954 Presidential Order, accords special rights and privileges to the citizens of of J&K and denies property rights to a woman who marries a person from outside the state.

Ghulam Jeelani Purza (Chairman, Jammu and Kashmir Contractors Coordination Committee)

Chairman, Jammu and Kashmir Contractors Coordination Committee, Ghulam Jeelani Purza thinks no different. 

“It is not an issue of any particular individual or any particular community it is a matter of life and death for people of Jammu and Kashmir”, he told Ziraat Times, adding, “Over the years, we have witnessed how our special status have been eroded, be it taking our fiscal autonomy by implementing Goods and Service Tax regime or changing the nomenclature of head of the state from Prime Minister to Chief Minister.”

“Now we won’t tolerate taking away Article 35A which gives us a special right of being exclusive owners of the land/property in our state,” Purza said.

He said they were ready to take “extreme steps” to safeguard the special status.

Bashir Ahmad Rather (President, Gold Dealers Workers Union)

Bashir Ahmad Rather President, Gold Dealers Workers Union, believes that “There will be serious ramifications if Article 35 A is tinkered with. We want to make it amply clear to New Delhi that they should stop testing our patience. Every now and then there are attempts being made to weaken our special status. If the Article 35Ais tinkered with, we are ready for extreme resistance.” 

He said that gold dealers will abide by the protest programme of the Joint Resistance Leadership and business community to “fight nefarious designs of RSS-led groups” to dilute our special status.

Members of the sikh community also held protest demonstration in Pratap park at city centre Lal Chowk against attempts to abrogate article 35-A. 

They demanded that the petition challenging special status of JK in Supreme court should be withdrawn.

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