OPINION

Letter and spirit

New domicile rules that followed the termination of the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, which was reorganised into two Union Territories, have brought succour and hope for a segment of its population that had to contend with fragmented citizenship rights for long. This group, of two to three lakh people, is made up of refugees from Pakistan, sanitary workers resettled from other parts of India and Gorkhas who arrived as soldiers before Independence. The erstwhile State of J&K gained special powers to define its ‘permanent residents’ and restrict land, educational and employment rights only to them. This cohort was not classified as permanent residents, leading to a denial of opportunities to them in education, employment and politics — a situation not merely unjust but also untenable. Subsequent to changes to Articles 370 and 35A in August 2019, in March 2020, the concept of “permanent resident of the State” was discontinued in J&K. As per the new domicile rules, those persons and their children who have resided for 15 years in J&K, or have studied for seven years and appeared in the Class X or XII exam in an educational institution in the UT, are eligible for grant of domicile. Besides mitigating the historical deprivation of one segment, the changes will enable many others currently living in J&K to get domicile and associated rights.

Not everyone is rejoicing, though. There are concerns that the changes in domicile rules will lead to a huge influx into the region; a more uncharitable interpretation is that a deliberate scheme to change the demographic character of the region is unfolding. The National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, both Valley-based parties, have reiterated their opposition to the changes. In the Jammu region also, there are concerns that there could be dispossession of land and a shrinking of economic opportunities for local people. Movement of people across political and natural borders has been a constant feature of progress, and arguments over who are the original inhabitants of a place serve little purpose other than to accentuate political polarisation. Economic growth and vitality of a society often positively correlate with its openness towards the outside world. Communities that are not equipped to negotiate with unfamiliar market and cultural forces need some insulation. It is arguable that with relatively high rates of literacy, education and material standards, J&K is not susceptible to any demographic or economic takeover by immigrants. Movement into the region will be largely driven by economic reasons. A state-driven reengineering of the demography of any place is not desirable or democratic, but the fear of such a scenario is no good reason to retreat into a cocoon of nativism.

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