Domicile Law in J&K leads to the Emergence of Young Leaders

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While the entirety of India experiences the lockdown, yet another law was imposed on the inhabitants of Jammu & Kashmir. On April 1st, the Government of India issued a notification to change the decades-old law of the region. The Domicile Law now entitles anyone who has stayed in the region for 15 years to domicile status, allowing them to exercise ownership rights and privileges only granted to native residents. Kashmiris fear this has opened up the state for settlement by outsiders. The special status of J&K barred outsiders from acquiring land, jobs, and other provisions. Now removed, this not only threatens the Muslim majority demographic but also claims on occupations and property which were reserved for native Kashmiris.

This law comes after a series of amendments in the Constitution of this state — from the abrogation of its special status, multiple shutdowns, to Article 370. In response to these changes imposed by the Centre, the youth of Kashmir has decided to take a stance and publicly display their solidarity as well as their opposition against the new law.

The job rights that were earlier reserved only for permanent residents of Kashmir are now available for all domiciles. Fearing job security, many took to social media to unify against the law.

Sohail Malik, A law student and activist from the University of Jammu, posted on the evening of April 1st, “I stand in protest,” against a black background on social media. This quickly became viral within hours, with people posting this statement along with the tags #statehood, #ProtectionOfLand, amongst others calling for autonomy and self-determination. The young voices of J&K have lost their patience and are questioning the intentions of the Central Government.

Malik has since become a youth icon, who often expresses resentment against the political parties and politicians. “I hope the vision of Maharaja Hari Singh will not be crushed by BJP….We want the protection of our land at any cost and Statehood for J&K,” he spoke out against the domicile law.

The National Students Union of India has been holding a series of demonstrations in the state. It’s state president Raqeeq Khan describes the policy as “highly exploitative and discriminatory This law the new policy hurts “dignity” of the educated youth.

Some people were also posting pictures of their shaven heads in protest. Phrases like “JKAgainstDomicileLaw” “StandUnited” “DraconianLaw” were trending for 3 days on many social platforms.

After the student and youth-led agitation, many politicians also displayed their distaste by calling out the extreme actions of the central government. Chairman, Jammu Muslim Front, Shuja Zaffar appealed to other Jammu and Kashmir political leaders to raise voice as this ‘draconian bill’ will swallow future of children of Jammu and Kashmir.

Leaders also came in solidarity for the dharna staged by the chairman of JKNPP Harsh Dev Singh. “The BJP-led government has caused the greatest disappointment to the educated unemployed. They have betrayed the trust of J-K people. We ask you to revoke it,” he stated.

The BJP’s Jammu unit had also conveyed to the party high command the growing unrest among the youth over the domicile policy.

The evening of April 4 brought in a victory for the protesters; albeit a bittersweet one. After multiple objections; the centre brought in minor amendments to the Domicile Law.

After the amendment, jobs have been reserved only for J&K domiciles, which include both natives as well those non-natives who fulfil the government criteria to be a resident. The revised order makes jobs in the UT administration out of bounds for non-residents of J&K. However, there has not been any change to the rule that will treat people from outside the UT, who have been residents for 15 years, as domicile residents.

Plastering news of the coronavirus, news and other media outlets failed to show the gravity of the situation and its future consequences. The people of J&K fought a “silent war” that is still far from over.

Youth leaders and politicians still condemn this insufficient amendment.

Ever since it was declared a union territory, the government of Jammu & Kashmir now has less power than that of a State Government. The people are suppressed by the Centre and wish to govern themselves rather than have ignorant laws imposed on them.

Still, this incident has strengthened the influence of youth leaders and the politicians are forced to acknowledge their existence. The future of J&K has brought about a new wave of hope filled with promises of a better tomorrow.

The objective of a ‘Think Article’ is to bring knowledge about policies in the sphere, in context to the youth of India and, if possible, influencing the policy process. The article has no motivation to pass any political judgments.

Voices of India’s Youth. Young India Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation supporting young candidates in India to stand for elections.