A Win For Progressive Rights: Jammu & Kashmir
Leaving aside the inherent dichotomy of having “special territories” within a nation, the nullification of Article 370 was a win for basic rights we take for granted here in America as well as most of India. Introduced in 1954 as a “temporary” provision, the special status had led to an ossification of laws and policies in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) with women, dalits, LGBTQ and other marginalized groups bearing the brunt of discrimination.
In its seven decades following independence, India had enacted a number of progressive laws, but their deployment in J&K was blocked by its ‘special’ status.
These included laws enabling transparency within the government such as the Right to Information (RTI) to reservations in jobs and education (affirmative action) for lower castes, tribals and other disadvantaged groups. Also blocked were guidelines prohibiting child marriage that had been in force in the rest of India for decades, along with more recently enacted protections abolishing the system of instant verbal divorce (triple talaq) for Muslim women.
In 2018, India’s Supreme court had delivered a historic judgement for LGBTQ rights – abolishing a British era law that outlawed homosexuality. Unfortunately, due to Article 370, this protection did not extend to J&K meaning the LGBTQ community in J&K continued to live in the shadows.
The women of J&K also faced gender based discrimination. Under Article 370 women who married non Kashmiris, lost the right to reside and own property in the state. The same restrictions did not apply to Kashmiri men. Nullification secured equal marital and property rights for Kashmiri women.
Dalits (also known as Valmikis) working janitorial jobs in J&K, were denied resident status despite living in the state since the 1950s. Under the provisions of Article 370 and 35A, generations of these marginalized groups languished as semi-bonded labor restricted to janitorial work, denied access to better education and jobs. The Gorkha community, living the valley since its days as a princely state, were similarly denied residency rights. In the short time since the abrogation of 370, more than 2,00,000 of these groups have now received permanent domicile permits – the foundation for a more secure and upwardly mobile future. For the Dalits this certificate is the foundational piece of identification that enables to them to apply for jobs and benefits beyond the confines of what their ancestors were hired to do in the 1950s.
Under article 370, Buddhist majority Ladakh had suffered dire neglect under successive state governments. It lacked educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and even basic communications infrastructure such as a television network. Ladakhi voices were ignored or sidelined. Residents of Ladakh had agitated for a separation from the state since the 1950s and celebrated the nullification of 370 by calling it their “First Independence day”.
Ladakh is now a separate Union Territory with a locally focused administration.
There’s hope ahead.
Article 370 Introduced in 1954: https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/kashmir-situation-article-370-history-1578495-2019-08-08
Dalits Denied Domicile Rights:
LGBTQ Remain Illegal in J&K: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/section-377-pride-not-extended-to-jk/articleshow/65714300.cms
Triple Talaq Not Applicable to J&K: http://www.thenorthlines.com/jk-does-not-relate-to-triple-talaq-bill/