Article 35A: Kashmir’s ‘special status’ under threat
Article 35A of the Constitution, which has been in force since 1954, relates to the rights and privileges of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a part of Article 370, which grants the state of Jammu and Kashmir special autonomous status. However, the existence of Article 35A may probably be under threat with an NGO challenging the article in the Supreme Court. Let us take a look at what Article 35A is all about and why certain politicians are opposing its removal.
What is Article 35A?
Article 35A is an article of the Constitution of India that empowers the state legislature of J&K to define the state’s permanent residents. These permanent residents are provided special rights and privileges and are also given a permanent resident certificate which provides them with certain benefits in the field of employment opportunities, scholarships, among others. But one of the most significant aspects of the article – which apart from Kashmir, also applies to Jammu and Ladakh – is that only the permanent residents of the state have the right to buy, as well as own property in the state, something which outsiders are barred from doing. The article is significant as it protects the demographic character of J&K, which is the only Muslim-majority state in India.
Why does the government want it scrapped?
In 2015, Article 35A was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Jammu & Kashmir Study Centre, an RSS-backed think tank. In 2017, the article has been challenged by a little known NGO We the Citizens, which maintains that the article is unconstitutional and discriminatory to women. Hence, it should be removed. The recent petition states that property rights are denied to resident women of J&K who marry a person from another state. And it is not only the woman who is affected but her children will also not be given Permanent Resident Certificate and are barred for inheritance to their mother’s property.
Further, the State legislature is also given the power to frame any law without being challenged on the grounds of violating the Right to Equality of people from other states or any other right that is listed under the Constitution of India.
The View of politicians
The politicians of Jammu and Kashmir are against abolishing Article 35A and have maintained that in case the law is done away with would dishonour the Union government’s promise the safeguard the special status of the state. They also fear that with the abolishing of the law the demographics of the state would change as it would pave the way for people from other states to settle in Jammu and Kashmir. The top leaders of J&K Omar Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of the state, and Mehbooba Mufti, the current CM, have warned against abolishing it. While Mufti has stated that it would destroy India’s fragile relationship with the state, Abdullah has stated that it would have grave consequences for J&K.
Can removing article 35A solve Kashmir’s problems?
Jammu and Kashmir is already a troubled state and there have been frequent incidents of stone pelting. More than solving the problem of the state, any tampering with Article 35A would further aggravate the situation. The possibility that the centre may do away with the law has united the ruling PDP and the opposition. CM Mehbooba Mufti has warned that if Article 35A is tinkered with there will be no one left in the state to hold the national flag.