What has changed in Kashmir and for the Kashmiris after the withdrawal of the state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution? What is the situation there of the people other than the Kashmiri Pandits and the Kashmiri Muslims? This is something an ordinary Indian living outside Kashmir would be curious about. To answer these questions, one needs to go beyond Srinagar and Jammu into the rural and semi-urban areas.
It is true that once upon a time the valley was dominated by Kashmiri Pandits. They were the educated and elite class. Neither the ordinary people nor the Muslim religious leaders deny this. Also, there is no denying the fact that Kashmir witnessed a deluge of religious conversions during the medieval period. But Kashmir is not only Pandits and Muslims. There are a large number of Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs both among Hindus and Muslims in the Valley.
Before the revocation of Article 370, in the former Jammu and Kashmir state, Chanpa, Purippa, Garra, Brukpa, Beda, Balti, Bot, Gaddi, Gujjar, Bakawal and Mon communities had the status of STs. The population of SCs is relatively smaller. There were about 20 lakh SCs in the undivided state. They included castes like Balvala, Basith, Ramdasia, Chamar, Valmiki, Meghwal, Dhyar, Dom, Rataal and Saryara. But the issues related to the SCs, OBCs and Adivasis of the valley neither enter public discourse nor find any mention in the media.
Today, Dalits living in the Kashmir Valley, especially in the districts in south Kashmir, are facing a plethora of problems. Like in the rest of India, they are also facing issues related to education and employment. This has generated resentment among them. They say that the promises made by the government regarding development and employment at the time of the withdrawal of the Article 370 from the state are yet to be fulfilled. Unbridled inflation is adding to their woes.
Sanjay Saraf, national general secretary of Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party, says that there is no doubt that the law and order situation in the state has improved. Incidents of stone-throwing are no longer being reported. But lack of people’s representatives – elections have not been held in the union territory – is adversely impacting the weaker sections. “The poor man doesn’t have access even to a lowly police official, let alone the lieutenant governor. He needs political leaders to get his problems redressed. But presently, governance is entirely in the hands of officers. There is no one to listen to the common man. In such a situation, the poor and the weaker sections are bound to be affected.”
Congress leader Sardar Surendra Singh Channi, a Dalit, echoes this sentiment. He says that in any democracy, elected representatives play a crucial role. People cannot approach the lieutenant governor. Additionally there are security restrictions to contend with in the state. “There is no legislature in the state. This has almost ended interaction between the people and the administration,” he says.
Ram Avatar hails from the Gaddi community in Ramban district. He doesn’t own farmland and works the fields of others for a living. The past few months have been very difficult for him. “Income is falling and prices are increasing,” he says. He adds that after the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, people are reluctant to rent out their land for fear that the tenant may permanently occupy. Ram Avatar was hopeful that the government would increase job opportunities in the state but that has not happened. “The promises of development and employment remain just that – promises,” he said.
Avdhesh Valmiki from Jammu has his own litany of woes. “Permanent jobs are simply not available and the income from contractual jobs is hardly enough to make ends meet,” he says. According to Avdhesh, only the well-off benefit from income from tourism, big projects and government contracts. “With a new administrative system in place in the state, officers do not listen to the common man. He has to make innumerable rounds of government offices to get his work done. The problems of the poor have only increased,” he says.
The claims and promises made by the government at the time of the bifurcation of the state haven’t produced results on the ground. Ask any ordinary person and they will tell you that they had accepted the revoking of Article 370 and 35A hoping that it would bring industries, development, employment and government programmes to the state. Altaf Gujjar, a resident of Srinagar, says, “The people have got nothing in return for what was snatched from them. Now, the talk is only about the outsiders, their votes, their security and protection and work for them. The rich are growing richer and the poor are turning poorer.”
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)
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