A sorry tale of minorities in Jammu & Kashmir

It defies reason why successive Governments at the Centre do not withhold Central schemes until Jammu & Kashmir enacts appropriate legislation for distribution of benefits to the minorities

So alarming is the security situation in Jammu & Kashmir that after failing to hold elections to Anantnag lok Sabha constituency for over a year, and now again postponing panchayat and municipal elections (terms ended July 2016, March 2010 respectively), Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has inducted brother Tassaduq Mufti into the legislative Council on a seat vacated by Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh after he resigned from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to protest its anti-Jammu policies.

Anti-Jammu can be read as anti-Hindu and anti-minorities. Refusing to extend Central grants for minorities to the State’s religious minorities, the Mehbooba Mufti Government recently informed the Supreme Court that it would consider setting up a minority commission in the State “if the need arose”, as minorities notified by the Government of India are entitled to benefits in Jammu & Kashmir despite the non-applicability of the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992, to the State.

To the uninitiated, this means that the State’s religious minorities, viz, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians, will not get any relief from Central schemes and funds as they are notified as minorities at the national level, along with Muslims, but not in the State.

This legal anomaly allows the State Government to funnel the benefits of all Central schemes and funds for minorities almost exclusively towards the Muslim majority of Srinagar valley. The State’s religious minorities are left high and dry. Neither the National Conference or the PDP, or even the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party State units, have ever espoused the need for a State minority commission to provide benefits to the beleaguered minorities.

Instead, all Central funds and schemes, including under the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities, are happily cornered by the majority community, even though the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 is not applicable to the State. Naturally, the valley-centric political parties that rule the State, by turns, happily corner the Central schemes and funds in violation of the spirit in which they have been conceived.

It defies reason why successive Central Governments do not withhold these schemes until the State enacts appropriate legislation for distribution of benefits, as appropriation by the dominant community negates the objective of the programmes. More pertinently, as Jammu & Kashmir has special status under Article 370 of the Constitution, how can the State Government permit extension of a Central scheme without enabling a legislationIJ By this logic, all Central laws and programmes can be extended to the State without special sanction.

Perhaps this case can be cited to prove to the Supreme Court that Article 370 is a political device to pamper the State’s Muslim political parties, with deleterious consequences for its citizens. This appeasement consciously excludes non-Muslim State subjects from its embrace, making it the worst form of communalism India has ever seen. But now that we have evidence of successive regimes permitting Central schemes without enabling legislation, in order to divert morally untenable benefits to Muslims, we must challenge the non-accountability bestowed by Article 370 and the legitimacy of the Indian taxpayer being made to fund a collectivity known best for its infatuation with the land across the border.

Jammu-based lawyer Ankur Sharma filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court in 2016 for scrapping of minority benefits to Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir on the ground that they constitute the majority in the State; for getting a minority commission set up in Jammu & Kashmir to identify religious and linguistic minorities; and for extension of the NCM Act to the State.

Interestingly, the apex court is also hearing petitions seeking scrapping of Article 35A and Article 370 that bestow the State with special constitutional status vis-à-vis the rest of India and make the minorities especially vulnerable.

Unfortunately, in the December 11 hearing, the Supreme Court said it could not direct the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly to enact a law to set up a minority commission, as the issue belonged to the State legislature. But on August 8, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had objected to the “disastrous” affidavit submitted by the Mufti regime on the issue and asked the Centre and State Government to jointly take a “considered view” on the subject within three months.

Previously, on May 1, the centre informed the court that a high-level committee comprising the Union minority affairs secretary, Jammu & Kashmir chief secretary and other officials was set up after the court’s March 27 order, to submit a joint proposal suggesting solutions to the problems faced by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians due to their non-identification as minorities in the State. The Jammu & Kashmir Government had opposed the PIl for creation of a minority commission on grounds that it was not the only State where minorities declared under the National Commission for Minorities Act were in a majority.

However, a growing sense of deprivation has led to crystallisation of Hindu sentiments on the issue. Recently, the BJP State spokesperson, Prof Virender Gupta, berated the coalition partner, saying, “The Kashmiri leadership that considers itself as the most secular lot in the country cannot afford to ignore the plight of minorities in the State who are criminally victimised and discriminated against”. Gupta said it “amounts to cheating the nation and looting money from the central exchequer meant for religious and linguistic minorities in the State”. But the BJP seems conflicted on the issue as State general secretary Ashok Kaul said Hindus cannot be a minority anywhere in India as they are the national majority.

Meanwhile, discontent in ladakh has caused elected representatives to reiterate their demand for separation from Kashmir due to discrimination by successive Governments in the past 70 years, in every sphere — jobs, education, benefits of schemes or political representation. Thupstan Chhewang, BJP MP from ladakh, rues the BJP’s failure to implement its promise of Union Territory status to ladakh. Some MlAs favour creation of “Greater ladakh” comprising Kargil, ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan and all areas previously part of ladakh region before Partition.

The alacrity with which the Chief Minister granted amnesty to 390 allegedly “first time stone throwers” in north Kashmir has aggravated tensions in Jammu and ladakh; ultimately around 4,500 stone-pelters will be pardoned. At the other end of the spectrum, Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Pakistan and Kashmiri Pandits forced to leave the valley in 1990, languish from sheer neglect, while funds are being collected to bring and settle illegal Rohingyas in Jammu. Rohingyas are being wooed byjihadi groups and pose a serious security threat. For minorities, the playing field is becoming increasingly lopsided.

(The writer is a political analyst and independent researcher)

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