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Challenging Article 35(A): A sinister plot

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal 10 Aug 2017
Two weeks ago, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, speaking at a public forum in Delhi, warned of any tinkering with Article 35 (A) of Indian Constitution, pertaining to special status of the state. She averred that if this happens, “there will be nobody left in Kashmir to hoist the national tricolor”. Omar Abdullah cautioned that any bid to tamper with this constitutional provision would amount to playing with fire.

Article 35A
Image: Kashmir Observer

The desperation in the tone matched the unusual bonhomie between her and her main political adversary, Farooq Abdullah, patron of National Conference (NC), on August 8. Media reports said that Mehbooba called on Farooq to discuss the current political situation in the state. Article 35 (A) was said to be the main agenda of the meeting that was held in a ‘cordial’ atmosphere, as vouched by Omar Abdullah in a tweet. Ever since, other opposition parties including the Congress have called for a united voice against this move: rising above party and partisan politics and getting together, in one voice, against any tinkering or weakening the article. They have also suggested an all party delegation led by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to petition the Centre on this issue; to apprise the people there about the disastrous fallout of the weakening or abrogating Article 35 A.

The row over Article 35 (A) has not only brought Mehbooba’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and NC on the same page but also the separatists who have called for protests against moves to tamper with the Article 35 (A). The move is seen as having a potential of inflaming the already tense and sensitive situation in the state.

At the heart of this controversy, which is likely to throw up unique political equations at a certain level, is a petition filed by an RSS backed NGO in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of this constitutional provision. The petition has been pending in the apex court since two years.

Despite persistent pleas by the state government, the Centre has refused to challenge this legal intervention in the Supreme Court, enhancing the dangers of a possible lopsided hearing on the issue. Owing to the overtly sensitive politics of the state and in view of the historic special status, the issue assumes even greater significance.  

Article 35(A) empowers the J&K legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state. This section was added to Article 35 through a Presidential Order called The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 1954, issued under Article 370. The order superseded an earlier order issued in 1950, which provided the framework for division of powers between J&K and New Delhi under Article 370. The Article incorporates the safeguards for the citizens of the state provided in the state subject law promulgated by the Maharaja Hari Singh-led government in 1927.

Article 370 which remains the constitutional link between India and Jammu and Kashmir and also guarantees special status to the state stands eroded today and diluted through a slew of central amendments right since 1950s. The permanent resident provision, protected by the Article 35 A, today remains the core of this special status that the state enjoys. Striking down this crucial provision, Article 35 A, which was not passed by the parliament or ratified by the state legislature but came as a presidential order, may create a constitutional crisis, impacting several other such presidential orders altering the state’s special status, including the recent one on GST. 

Any debate on Article 35 (A) naturally invokes one on Article 370 as well, as the former was supposed to be a clarification provision to the latter. In 2015, a division bench of J&K High Court interpreted Article 370 as a permanent provision. "The Article 370, notwithstanding its title 'temporary provision' is a permanent provision of the Constitution. It cannot be abrogated, repealed or even amended as mechanism provided under Clause (3) of Article 370 is no more available", pronounced the court in October 2015. Even if this verdict be challenged, a debate on these issues re-open the entire debate on accession, which is hinged to the constitutional provisions of Article 370 that form the vital link between Jammu and Kashmir and rest of the state.

The legal and constitutional technicality apart, the debates on Article 35 (A) and Article 370 are red rags that will further muddy the waters in Jammu and Kashmir, politically as well as socially, with dangers of not just a more lethal backlash in the Valley but also possible polarisation of state on dangerously communal lines. The issue thus brings political adversaries, NC and PDP, as well as Hurriyat on the same page. The consequences of attempts to tinker with the special status of the state in any way have been well grasped by political parties across the spectrum, barring the BJP. All of them have been advocating for initiation of dialogue and confidence building measures for resolution of Kashmir dispute. The BJP-RSS agenda, on the other hand, is to take away whatever little privileges the state enjoys owing to its special status.

In the midst of this fresh crisis, another petition pleading for striking down Article 35 (A) and Section 6 of the Jammu and Kashmir constitution has been filed in the apex court by a Kashmiri Pandit woman, Charu Walikhanna, who has maintained that she was denied the right to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir because she had married outside the state. The petition contends that the Article 35 (A) perpetuates gender inequality and strips a woman marrying outside the state of her permanent resident status. This narrow interpretation of the law, which is actually silent about gender, is erroneous and based on ignorance. 

Section 6 of the J&K constitution lays down: “Nothing in foregoing provisions of this part shall derogate from the power of the State legislature to make any law defining the classes the persons who are, or shall be permanent residents of the State.” It further states, “A Bill marking provision for any of the following matters, namely:
(a) defining or altering the definition of, the classes of persons who are, or shall be, permanent residents of the State;
(b) conferring on permanent residents any special rights or privileges;
(c) regulating or modifying any special rights or privileges enjoyed by permanent residents; shall be deemed to be passed by either House of the Legislature only if it is passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of that House. It also states, “The permanent residents of the State shall have all the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of India.” 
 
The Article 35 (A), thus, defines and qualifies the permanent resident of Jammu and Kashmir as well as guarantees fundamental rights and right to equality to these citizens as per the Indian constitution. Its silence on the rights of women marrying outside the side is settled by the clause that upholds the citizens’ constitutional rights which make no distinction on basis of caste, creed, religion or gender.

The apprehensions raised by the woman moving the Supreme Court are not without reason, however. The flawed interpretation stems from myths perpetuated for a long time, made worse by politicking by political parties over the issue.

In 1960s, the then Jammu and Kashmir revenue minister issued the orders for stamping the permanent resident certificates of women with a stamp saying, “Valid till marriage”. Noted political analyst Balraj Puri writes, “The fact is that neither the state subject law of 1927 nor the act under the state constitution (after which the earlier law in any case lapsed), provide for cancellation of the state subject; nor for different treatment of men and women. The state subject of Mrs. Ghulam Kabra and her right to inherit property was, for instance, challenged in the State High Court as early as in 1939 in Maharaja’s time on the ground that though a State Subject by birth, she had lost that status by marrying a non-state subject. The Court held that Ghulam Kabra was legal heir of the property which she could inherit.” (PUCL Bulletin, April 2004)

On the executive order of 1960s, Puri writes, “this order which lacked the force of law was differently interpreted.” He quoted the case of daughter of a senior bureaucrat of the state, SAS Qadri, who married, Mehmood-ul-Rehman, an IAS officer from outside the state, in 1973. “Her status as a permanent resident of the state and her right to inherit property of her father under that was declared valid by the Revenue Minister on the ground that ‘the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir or any other law does not provide for deprivation of a permanent resident of the state of his or her status’.”

Similarly, in 2002, a full bench of the High Court in a case, State of Jammu and Kashmir vs Dr Sushila Sawhney, said that daughter of a permanent resident of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will not lose status as permanent resident of the State on marriage with a person who is not permanent resident of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. One judge struck a discordant note with the argument that the rights of the woman should be limited only to inheritance of property.

Several similar petitions pending in the courts filed by women whose seniority or jobs were challenged on grounds that they had married non permanent residents since the 60s were also clubbed together by the Supreme Court which finally sent them back to the state government with the direction to come up with a suitable way that addresses the issue. 

Later, the state government appealed in the Supreme Court against the high court judgement of 2002. In 2004 the then PDP government in 2004 withdrew the appeal and moved a Bill in the Legislative Assembly seeking disqualification of a woman marrying a non-State Subject. The bill was passed in the assembly unanimously without anyone raising a whimper but failed the test on the floor of the upper house of state legislature. The BJP turned the issue into an opportunity to give the controversy a saffron colour by equating the state’s autonomy with gender oppression. The row took an ugly turn with regional divides being played up by BJP, Congress and Valley based parties and soon assumed communal overtones. 

 (To say that Jammu opposes Article 370 and Article 35 (A) would be an over-simplified and also an erroneous view. Interestingly, when it comes to preserving the interests of locals, there has been strong opposition to attempts to tamper with the article. Last winter, chemist shops in Jammu were shut for three days to protest against the PDP-BJP coalition government’s decision to allow a non-state subject to open 57 pharmacy shops in violation of the Article 370.)

In the face of stiff resistance from Jammu based women groups and some political parties in 2004 to the Permanent Resident Disqualification Bill, the government created a select house committee to look into the lacunae which left the law open to interpretation. The contents of the report tabled by the committee are not fully known but it has not sought any changes in the law, nor advised anyone’s disqualification. Successive governments, thereafter, have desisted from bringing back the contentious bill in the legislature. More significantly, the state subject certificates of women no longer bear the stamp ‘Valid till marriage’ since the last one decade. 

There is no way that legally the right of the woman to purchase property or retain her state subject right can be challenged. Article 6 of the J&K Constitution clearly upholds the right to equality as laid down in the Indian Constitution. Article 35 (A) clearly makes no reference to women losing their rights as permanent resident.

This kind of politicking in challenging the women’s status in courts or within the legislature has, thus, stood on a sticky wicket. There are enough safeguards in the existing laws to ensure that women’s status as permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be challenged.

Walikhanna’s petition thus raises anxieties that are exaggerated and based on myths, deliberate or otherwise. Is her petition based on presumptions? Did some officials of revenue department prevent her from going ahead with purchasing land? Is it possible that perpetuation of myths and lies has created space for multiple interpretations of the law? Is it just a case of ignorance or a case of poor implementation of law? It is neither. The petitioner in question was never a permanent resident of the state and is Kashmiri by ancestry. Her petition that is based on the rejection of her claims to residentship of Jammu and Kashmir, made in a letter to the Governor, mentions that her family was part of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus during the Afghan period in the 18th century, at a time when the state was not even formed.

Interestingly, her petition to the Supreme Court includes the case of Sushila Sawhney, in which the High Court ruled against depriving her of her permanent resident status after her marriage with a non-permanent resident. The petition does not mention the verdict but selectively picks up the court’s observation (in Sushila’s case), “no law defining the Classes of persons, who are or shall be the permanent residents of the State has so far been enacted by the State Legislature in exercise of its power under section 8 of the State of Jammu and Kashmir Constitution” to argue that “under the guise of Article 370 and 35A, the men and women state subjects are subjected to different treatments and discriminated based on gender.”

These anxieties are as misplaced as the apprehensions created in the Valley of a demographic change through marriage patterns. That having been said, any bid to strike down the Article 35 (A) does enhance the dangers of alteration of the demographic profile of the state. Such fears are not off the mark.

For decades, the RSS has had a historic penchant for suggesting that the demography of the state needs to be changed to resolve the Kashmir issue permanently. Two months ago, union home minister Rajnath Singh suggested, without spelling anything, that the government had found a ‘permanent solution’ to Kashmir dispute. In recent weeks, Article 35 (A) has been raised, again, by right wing groups who are calling for a debate or simply demanding to revoke it along with Article 370. As for Walikhanna’s case, it is not known if it is inspired by presumptions based on half baked knowledge or plain mischief.

In this current context, for Kashmiris suspicious of the designs of the Hindu right wing, it is not difficult to connect the dots and see the RSS’ historic resolve, Rajnath Singh’s remarks, the present discourse, the Centre openly favouring a larger debate and the petitions in the apex court challenging the state’s special status as part of the same project. There is enough potential in the controversy for further causing provocation in an already volatile Valley, besides polarizing rest of the state on communal lines. The dangers of stirring this hornet’s nest are unimaginable. 

Related Articles
Unravelling the Article 370 Rhetoric & Hysteria
J&K: Dangerous Demographics: Linking Article 370 with the Pandits’ return


 

Challenging Article 35(A): A sinister plot

Two weeks ago, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, speaking at a public forum in Delhi, warned of any tinkering with Article 35 (A) of Indian Constitution, pertaining to special status of the state. She averred that if this happens, “there will be nobody left in Kashmir to hoist the national tricolor”. Omar Abdullah cautioned that any bid to tamper with this constitutional provision would amount to playing with fire.

Article 35A
Image: Kashmir Observer

The desperation in the tone matched the unusual bonhomie between her and her main political adversary, Farooq Abdullah, patron of National Conference (NC), on August 8. Media reports said that Mehbooba called on Farooq to discuss the current political situation in the state. Article 35 (A) was said to be the main agenda of the meeting that was held in a ‘cordial’ atmosphere, as vouched by Omar Abdullah in a tweet. Ever since, other opposition parties including the Congress have called for a united voice against this move: rising above party and partisan politics and getting together, in one voice, against any tinkering or weakening the article. They have also suggested an all party delegation led by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to petition the Centre on this issue; to apprise the people there about the disastrous fallout of the weakening or abrogating Article 35 A.

The row over Article 35 (A) has not only brought Mehbooba’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and NC on the same page but also the separatists who have called for protests against moves to tamper with the Article 35 (A). The move is seen as having a potential of inflaming the already tense and sensitive situation in the state.

At the heart of this controversy, which is likely to throw up unique political equations at a certain level, is a petition filed by an RSS backed NGO in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of this constitutional provision. The petition has been pending in the apex court since two years.

Despite persistent pleas by the state government, the Centre has refused to challenge this legal intervention in the Supreme Court, enhancing the dangers of a possible lopsided hearing on the issue. Owing to the overtly sensitive politics of the state and in view of the historic special status, the issue assumes even greater significance.  

Article 35(A) empowers the J&K legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state. This section was added to Article 35 through a Presidential Order called The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 1954, issued under Article 370. The order superseded an earlier order issued in 1950, which provided the framework for division of powers between J&K and New Delhi under Article 370. The Article incorporates the safeguards for the citizens of the state provided in the state subject law promulgated by the Maharaja Hari Singh-led government in 1927.

Article 370 which remains the constitutional link between India and Jammu and Kashmir and also guarantees special status to the state stands eroded today and diluted through a slew of central amendments right since 1950s. The permanent resident provision, protected by the Article 35 A, today remains the core of this special status that the state enjoys. Striking down this crucial provision, Article 35 A, which was not passed by the parliament or ratified by the state legislature but came as a presidential order, may create a constitutional crisis, impacting several other such presidential orders altering the state’s special status, including the recent one on GST. 

Any debate on Article 35 (A) naturally invokes one on Article 370 as well, as the former was supposed to be a clarification provision to the latter. In 2015, a division bench of J&K High Court interpreted Article 370 as a permanent provision. "The Article 370, notwithstanding its title 'temporary provision' is a permanent provision of the Constitution. It cannot be abrogated, repealed or even amended as mechanism provided under Clause (3) of Article 370 is no more available", pronounced the court in October 2015. Even if this verdict be challenged, a debate on these issues re-open the entire debate on accession, which is hinged to the constitutional provisions of Article 370 that form the vital link between Jammu and Kashmir and rest of the state.

The legal and constitutional technicality apart, the debates on Article 35 (A) and Article 370 are red rags that will further muddy the waters in Jammu and Kashmir, politically as well as socially, with dangers of not just a more lethal backlash in the Valley but also possible polarisation of state on dangerously communal lines. The issue thus brings political adversaries, NC and PDP, as well as Hurriyat on the same page. The consequences of attempts to tinker with the special status of the state in any way have been well grasped by political parties across the spectrum, barring the BJP. All of them have been advocating for initiation of dialogue and confidence building measures for resolution of Kashmir dispute. The BJP-RSS agenda, on the other hand, is to take away whatever little privileges the state enjoys owing to its special status.

In the midst of this fresh crisis, another petition pleading for striking down Article 35 (A) and Section 6 of the Jammu and Kashmir constitution has been filed in the apex court by a Kashmiri Pandit woman, Charu Walikhanna, who has maintained that she was denied the right to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir because she had married outside the state. The petition contends that the Article 35 (A) perpetuates gender inequality and strips a woman marrying outside the state of her permanent resident status. This narrow interpretation of the law, which is actually silent about gender, is erroneous and based on ignorance. 

Section 6 of the J&K constitution lays down: “Nothing in foregoing provisions of this part shall derogate from the power of the State legislature to make any law defining the classes the persons who are, or shall be permanent residents of the State.” It further states, “A Bill marking provision for any of the following matters, namely:
(a) defining or altering the definition of, the classes of persons who are, or shall be, permanent residents of the State;
(b) conferring on permanent residents any special rights or privileges;
(c) regulating or modifying any special rights or privileges enjoyed by permanent residents; shall be deemed to be passed by either House of the Legislature only if it is passed by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of that House. It also states, “The permanent residents of the State shall have all the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of India.” 
 
The Article 35 (A), thus, defines and qualifies the permanent resident of Jammu and Kashmir as well as guarantees fundamental rights and right to equality to these citizens as per the Indian constitution. Its silence on the rights of women marrying outside the side is settled by the clause that upholds the citizens’ constitutional rights which make no distinction on basis of caste, creed, religion or gender.

The apprehensions raised by the woman moving the Supreme Court are not without reason, however. The flawed interpretation stems from myths perpetuated for a long time, made worse by politicking by political parties over the issue.

In 1960s, the then Jammu and Kashmir revenue minister issued the orders for stamping the permanent resident certificates of women with a stamp saying, “Valid till marriage”. Noted political analyst Balraj Puri writes, “The fact is that neither the state subject law of 1927 nor the act under the state constitution (after which the earlier law in any case lapsed), provide for cancellation of the state subject; nor for different treatment of men and women. The state subject of Mrs. Ghulam Kabra and her right to inherit property was, for instance, challenged in the State High Court as early as in 1939 in Maharaja’s time on the ground that though a State Subject by birth, she had lost that status by marrying a non-state subject. The Court held that Ghulam Kabra was legal heir of the property which she could inherit.” (PUCL Bulletin, April 2004)

On the executive order of 1960s, Puri writes, “this order which lacked the force of law was differently interpreted.” He quoted the case of daughter of a senior bureaucrat of the state, SAS Qadri, who married, Mehmood-ul-Rehman, an IAS officer from outside the state, in 1973. “Her status as a permanent resident of the state and her right to inherit property of her father under that was declared valid by the Revenue Minister on the ground that ‘the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir or any other law does not provide for deprivation of a permanent resident of the state of his or her status’.”

Similarly, in 2002, a full bench of the High Court in a case, State of Jammu and Kashmir vs Dr Sushila Sawhney, said that daughter of a permanent resident of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will not lose status as permanent resident of the State on marriage with a person who is not permanent resident of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. One judge struck a discordant note with the argument that the rights of the woman should be limited only to inheritance of property.

Several similar petitions pending in the courts filed by women whose seniority or jobs were challenged on grounds that they had married non permanent residents since the 60s were also clubbed together by the Supreme Court which finally sent them back to the state government with the direction to come up with a suitable way that addresses the issue. 

Later, the state government appealed in the Supreme Court against the high court judgement of 2002. In 2004 the then PDP government in 2004 withdrew the appeal and moved a Bill in the Legislative Assembly seeking disqualification of a woman marrying a non-State Subject. The bill was passed in the assembly unanimously without anyone raising a whimper but failed the test on the floor of the upper house of state legislature. The BJP turned the issue into an opportunity to give the controversy a saffron colour by equating the state’s autonomy with gender oppression. The row took an ugly turn with regional divides being played up by BJP, Congress and Valley based parties and soon assumed communal overtones. 

 (To say that Jammu opposes Article 370 and Article 35 (A) would be an over-simplified and also an erroneous view. Interestingly, when it comes to preserving the interests of locals, there has been strong opposition to attempts to tamper with the article. Last winter, chemist shops in Jammu were shut for three days to protest against the PDP-BJP coalition government’s decision to allow a non-state subject to open 57 pharmacy shops in violation of the Article 370.)

In the face of stiff resistance from Jammu based women groups and some political parties in 2004 to the Permanent Resident Disqualification Bill, the government created a select house committee to look into the lacunae which left the law open to interpretation. The contents of the report tabled by the committee are not fully known but it has not sought any changes in the law, nor advised anyone’s disqualification. Successive governments, thereafter, have desisted from bringing back the contentious bill in the legislature. More significantly, the state subject certificates of women no longer bear the stamp ‘Valid till marriage’ since the last one decade. 

There is no way that legally the right of the woman to purchase property or retain her state subject right can be challenged. Article 6 of the J&K Constitution clearly upholds the right to equality as laid down in the Indian Constitution. Article 35 (A) clearly makes no reference to women losing their rights as permanent resident.

This kind of politicking in challenging the women’s status in courts or within the legislature has, thus, stood on a sticky wicket. There are enough safeguards in the existing laws to ensure that women’s status as permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be challenged.

Walikhanna’s petition thus raises anxieties that are exaggerated and based on myths, deliberate or otherwise. Is her petition based on presumptions? Did some officials of revenue department prevent her from going ahead with purchasing land? Is it possible that perpetuation of myths and lies has created space for multiple interpretations of the law? Is it just a case of ignorance or a case of poor implementation of law? It is neither. The petitioner in question was never a permanent resident of the state and is Kashmiri by ancestry. Her petition that is based on the rejection of her claims to residentship of Jammu and Kashmir, made in a letter to the Governor, mentions that her family was part of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus during the Afghan period in the 18th century, at a time when the state was not even formed.

Interestingly, her petition to the Supreme Court includes the case of Sushila Sawhney, in which the High Court ruled against depriving her of her permanent resident status after her marriage with a non-permanent resident. The petition does not mention the verdict but selectively picks up the court’s observation (in Sushila’s case), “no law defining the Classes of persons, who are or shall be the permanent residents of the State has so far been enacted by the State Legislature in exercise of its power under section 8 of the State of Jammu and Kashmir Constitution” to argue that “under the guise of Article 370 and 35A, the men and women state subjects are subjected to different treatments and discriminated based on gender.”

These anxieties are as misplaced as the apprehensions created in the Valley of a demographic change through marriage patterns. That having been said, any bid to strike down the Article 35 (A) does enhance the dangers of alteration of the demographic profile of the state. Such fears are not off the mark.

For decades, the RSS has had a historic penchant for suggesting that the demography of the state needs to be changed to resolve the Kashmir issue permanently. Two months ago, union home minister Rajnath Singh suggested, without spelling anything, that the government had found a ‘permanent solution’ to Kashmir dispute. In recent weeks, Article 35 (A) has been raised, again, by right wing groups who are calling for a debate or simply demanding to revoke it along with Article 370. As for Walikhanna’s case, it is not known if it is inspired by presumptions based on half baked knowledge or plain mischief.

In this current context, for Kashmiris suspicious of the designs of the Hindu right wing, it is not difficult to connect the dots and see the RSS’ historic resolve, Rajnath Singh’s remarks, the present discourse, the Centre openly favouring a larger debate and the petitions in the apex court challenging the state’s special status as part of the same project. There is enough potential in the controversy for further causing provocation in an already volatile Valley, besides polarizing rest of the state on communal lines. The dangers of stirring this hornet’s nest are unimaginable. 

Related Articles
Unravelling the Article 370 Rhetoric & Hysteria
J&K: Dangerous Demographics: Linking Article 370 with the Pandits’ return


 

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