In the previous parts of this series, we discussed the fact-finding report on Kashmir, it can be ‘accessed here’.This part deals with the Jammu region.
Fact-Finding Team Jammu
1. Dr Prerna Malhotra, Associate Professor, Department of English Ram Lal Anand College (Delhi University)
2. Dr Reena Sablok, Assistant Professor, Department of English, SSN College (Delhi University)
3. Dr Ritu Mathur, Assistant Professor, Chemistry, Zakir Husain College (Delhi University)
The GIA Team landed in Jammu on 7th October 2019. As we landed in the Jammu airport we observed that the markets were open and a regular hustle and bustle, a routine business was on. The schools and Colleges were open. In fact, we spent many hours at the University of Jammu to get the opinion of faculty and students on the ground. The hostels in the University were functioning like any other working day.
We visited the Jammu, Akhnoor, Sunderbani, Nowshera, Rajouri belt of the Jammu region during 7.10.2019 to 9.10.2019 and covered rural and urban areas both. We met various stakeholders, including men, women and youth- state employees, representatives of many communities, traders, working women, educated unemployed youth including women, state representatives, academicians, legal experts, college and school students and many random residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
All the people surveyed and interacted by the team have welcomed the decision to set aside Article 370 and 35A. Not even a single person expressed contrary views
We particularly met diverse victims of Article 35A and the persons who had filed writ petitions in courts against the discriminatory provisions of the special law. The first such victims we met were some people from the Valmiki community who were invited in Jammu and Kashmir to settle way back in 1957 but were not provided with full state subject status. As a result, these families and their next generations have been struggling to get basic rights of citizenship on which many amenities in the State depended, like professional education, scholarship and to buy a home. They were even denied the reservation benefit which would have been available to them as an SC community if they had remained back home in Punjab or had migrated to any other part of the country.
Our team interacted with women who are victims of the “special‟ provisions accorded to the State for around seven decades under Article 370 and 35-A. Women of the State had to struggle through courts to get relief for themselves but their children were denied this till 5th August 2019.
Then we interacted with some people from the 1947-West Pakistan Refugees Community. We interacted with representatives of three generations of this section whose life has been a saga of living apathy and discrimination of the state. Our country got independent on 15th August 1947 but for this community, the freedom came on 5th August 2019.
The next we met were the people from the Gorkha community who have been with the Maharaja’s army and a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir for around 200 years. They have fought all major wars for the State including the latest Kargil war. However, the State did not consider them their daughters and sons, though they have been the patriotic citizens of the country.
The Balmiki Samaj:
Jammu and Kashmir had the special provision related to state citizenship, and these families were given permanent citizenship to work as “Safai Karamcharies‟ (sanitation workers) only.
Now even highly educated Balmikis (B.A., M.A., B.Tech. and other professional degrees), were bound to work as sanitation workers in Municipal Corporation in absence of Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC). They shared their pain that even these sweeper jobs were contractual and the level of corruption is so high that the vacant posts are not advertised till 8-10 years. There is no provision of promotion and they had to bribe to get these contractual jobs. The children of 12-14 years could be seen leaving back their studies and starting the job of sweeper on daily wages by paying bribe money of around Rs.30-40,000. Their trauma would not end there too as after working for 8-10 years they again had to pay a huge amount to be permanent.
It is the height of assault on their dignity by the state that their caste certificate provided by the State, still has the word “Churra‟ as their identity.
They mentioned instances of discrimination of caste within the caste. The Ravidas colony considers them downtrodden and they are not willing to sit with them, share food or drinking water along with them. The Ravidas community people are highly educated and well settled as they have got the benefit of reservation.
The people of the Balmiki community discussed the concern of conversion by missionaries. They provided them with schools, along with a hospital and a church to lure them. The convent schools where the elite people send their children, now with the consent of these missionaries the Balmiki children can also avail the school and medical facilities without any discrimination. Even today the efforts of conversion are continuous.
Afterwards, we met citizens of Rajouri and Poonch were vocal that they are the sufferers of the issues created by Kashmiris.
Main issues identified in Jammu Region Visit
Normalcy and Celebration in the Jammu Region Post-5th August
The team found everything normal in the Jammu, Sunderbani, Akhnoor, Rajouri belt, from cities to rural areas. Markets, shops, transportation services, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, mobile and landline phones have been working as usual. Internet services are available on Wi-Fi, at homes, Internet cafes and all government institutions. Only mobile phone Internet has been withheld till date and this restriction too may be eased out in the coming days.
All the people surveyed and interacted by the team have welcomed the decision to set aside Article 370 and 35A. Not even a single person expressed contrary views. In fact, most of the people of Jammu have been upbeat about this move, which they termed as a decisive and bold step. Some of them expressed that they could not absorb the fact for a few days that Article 370 and 35A have actually been set aside. It seemed to them like a dream coming true in their lifetime.
Security personnel have played a crucial role in the state and they have faced the biggest casualties too. Healing touch is required for the families of all those security forces who have sacrificed their lives for the State.
Main Issues in Jammu:
Corruption by Political Leadership and Bureaucracy
Most of the persons interacted with blamed the state governments and bureaucracy for the deeply entrenched corruption in the state machinery. Many respondents during their narratives have raised questions on the intent and mindset of bureaucrats. Many of them talked about pervasive corruption in the bureaucracy. Some shared their fears regarding the implementation of schemes at the grass-root levels through the present bureaucrats who have a Kashmir-centric mindset.
Some of the interviewees warned the Modi Government of the corrupt bureaucrats working on behalf of their political masters in the state in implementation of welfare schemes. They even mentioned that the present government may get a bad name due to corrupt and local administrators. They suggested that even MP and Block level funds should directly come in the accounts of Panchayats for direct utilisation of welfare scheme funds. They suggested that proper auditing, including social auditing, is a must as a tool of accountability public funding. Otherwise, the peril of leakages of funds will continue.
Major Findings of the Jammu Region Visit
The people surveyed and interacted by the team have welcomed the decision to set aside Article 370 and 35A. The main steps for action are as follows:
1. Many people shared their apprehensions regarding the loss of lands and jobs as they fear the influx of outsiders. This fear should be allayed. A few students also were enthusiastic about an expected increase in competition and their own possibility of skill development.
2. Taking Special Care of Victims of Article 370 and Article 35A: The team felt the prolonged pain and suffering of victims of 35A. No compensation can reverse the years of their mental agony and all kinds of loss.
3. Need for Development of the Neglected and Discriminated Areas and Communities ie in the border areas and Dalits in the region.
4. Strengthen and support Panchayati Raj.
Overall, the setting aside of Article 370 and 35A has been a huge step taken by the Central Government. The Even bigger task begins after 5th August 2019. The government needs to identify and prioritise its doable tasks on immediate and long term basis.
Apprehensions post-Abrogation and Expectations from the Central Government
Many people shared their apprehensions regarding the loss of lands and jobs as they fear an influx of outsiders. A few students also were enthusiastic about an expected increase in competition and their own possibility of skill development.
However, most of the respondents thanked the Centre government and particularly Shah and Modi duo for their iron will power in resolving an issue pending for decades.
Taking Special Care of Victims of Article 35A: Course Correction and Need for Putting Balm on the Hurt and need for Development of the Neglected and Discriminated Areas and Communities
The overall Jammu region has got step-motherly treatment at the hands of Kashmir-centric politics and policies. The region did not get priority in tourism, sports, industrial and infrastructure development. Specific areas and the communities from the region need to be identified and developed.
The bordering areas of Rajouri-Poonch have been neglected the most. The people of these areas have been the first victims of firing across the border. The development has yet to reach the Pahadi speaking community. The SC and the ST of the State have not got their constitutional dues for long. The government needs to prioritise the development of these areas and communities.
The setting aside of Article 370 and 35A has been a huge step taken by the Centre Government. The even bigger task begins after 5th August 2019. The Government needs to identify and prioritise its doable tasks on immediate and long term basis.
The people of bordering areas of Jammu and Kashmir have made sacrifices in multiple ways during wars and otherwise. People of all communities have co-existed peacefully in these areas. However, these areas have remained backwards as they were not in the priorities of the Kashmir-centric governments. They require better education, health and infrastructure facilities for their children.
Pahadi speaking community of border areas of Rajouri and Poonch, which includes people of various faiths have a long-standing demand to provide them ST status for a temporary period, which may be for 10 years. Considering the geo-political conditions of the area and other relevant factors, the demand may be considered. Panchayats and Block level machinery needs to be strengthened for effective implementation of welfare policies. It is essential for trust-building at the grass-root levels. It should be ensured that all the welfare schemes of the centre are implemented in Jammu and Kashmir on the ground.
Security personnel have played a crucial role in the state and they have faced the biggest casualties too. Healing touch is required for the families of all those security forces who have sacrificed their lives for the State. The service conditions of security forces fighting on the borders of the state need to be made better. Lakes of Rajpuri-Poonch are a big natural asset for the region. They may be developed to attract tourists. However, it is essential for tourism to have better connectivity and development of facilities. Employment generation for the youth should also be a priority
The team could feel the freedom in the air. People of Jammu region have welcomed the historic decision of the Indian Parliament on 5th and 6th August 2019 for setting aside of Article 370, 35-A and all related provisions. Particularly the victims of Article 35-A are jubilant as they see a normal life for themselves henceforth. They feel that they have become like any other citizen of the state and the country. For these sections of society, independence was achieved on 5th August 2019.
However, it would be the responsibility of the State and Centre Government to provide a healing touch to the already wronged sections of society. With the One Nation, One Constitution a reality, it is hoped that the dominance of Kashmir hegemony in J&K discourse will end and Jammu too will get its due share.
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