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Controversial decision by J-K govt can touch a nerve

Kashmir, limping back to normal after five months of violent agitation, is seeing murmurs of protest following a series of decisions that are being read as an attempt to dilute the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2016 09:35 IST
Toufiq Rashid
Soldiers chase a protester during a protest after Friday prayers in Srinagar.
Soldiers chase a protester during a protest after Friday prayers in Srinagar.(AP Photo)

Kashmir, limping back to normal after five months of violent agitation, is seeing murmurs of protest following a series of decisions that are being read as an attempt to dilute the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir.

The Kashmir Valley was shut down on Friday. The separatists had called the strike after a section of media reported that the government had begun issuing domicile certificates to west Pakistan refugees.

As anger grew, the government clarified, twice in two days, that the reports were mischievous. The refugees were only given identity certificates which didn’t make them state subjects, minister for education Naeem Akhtar said on Friday and Sunday.

The protest came a few days after the Supreme Court overturned a high court ruling and said the border state “has no vestige of sovereignty outside the Constitution of India”. It also rejected the view that the J-K constitution was equal to the Indian Constitution.

The Supreme Court’s ruling and the “move” on refugees are being seen as an attempt to dilute the state’s special status given under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

The top court shot down an HC ruling that upheld the state government’s contention that the securitisation and reconstruction of financial assets and enforcement of security interest (Sarfaesi) act wasn’t applicable to J-K due to its special status.

The ruling, locals believe, will allow banks in helping “back-door” acquisition of property by non-Kashmiris, which is barred.

The Sarfaesi act allows banks to move a tribunal to take possession of secured assets of the borrower and sell them outside the court process.

The Opposition has hit out at the PDP-BJP government. The government’s “weak” legal defence was “alarming,” as it was allowing “step-by-step erosion” of Article 370, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said on Sunday.

The former chief minister said the PDP, it seemed, was facilitating the “long-cherished desire” of the alliance partner BJP “to circumvent and subvert the constitution of the state”.

The separatists groups, which used to issue a weekly calendar of protests during the recent unrest, accused the PDP of trying to “change the demography” of the state to fulfil the “Hindutva agenda” of its coalition partner.

The west Pakistan refugees are largely Hindus and some are Sikhs.

Experts warn the recent decisions can trigger another round of protests. “It seems the government hasn’t learnt its lessons even after five months of shutdown and killing of nearly 100 people,’’ journalist Sheikh Mushtaq said.

The killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was merely a trigger for protests, he said. The Valley was already charged over the government’s decision to build houses for army personnel and a separate colony for Kashmiri Pandits.

While the government was quick to clarify on the refugee issue, law minister Abdul Haq Khan described the Sarfaesi act judgment “an achievement for the state”, saying the SC had upheld the state’s special status.

Of late, locals have been cold to separatists’ protest calls but on Friday, the strike was complete as people protested restrictions on their movement.

All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq criticised the government for restricting movement to prevent people from joining the protest against the “anti-Kashmir policies” of granting domicile rights to WP refugees and using the judiciary to subvert the Kashmir dispute.