“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” This line from the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, is oft quoted not just for its pithy turn of phrase but as an example of taking critical decisions at an opportune moment. We witnessed such a moment on August 5-6, 2019, when Parliament, in a spirit of near total bipartisanship, amended the Constitution, abrogating Article 35A and revoking most provisions of Article 370.
Article 370 was inserted into the Constitution after Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to the Indian Union on October 26, 1947. The Instrument of Accession signed by him was the same as all the other princely states. Though there was no public demand for a separate status, the provision was introduced temporarily. It allowed for a separate flag and a constitution, which may have had a role in preventing the emotional integration of the state into the Union of India.
Further, Article 35A was inserted in the Constitution by a presidential proclamation without reference to Parliament. However, in the written texts of the Constitution which were published thereafter, Article 35A found no mention, which is what prompted former finance minister late Arun Jaitley to refer to this insertion as a fraud committed on the Constitution of India. Article 35A allowed the J&K legislature to define permanent residents of the state. And in doing so, certain vulnerable sections of society were excluded. These were the Valmikis, who had been brought into the state in 1957, the West Pakistan refugees who had come after Partition, the Gurkhas who fought alongside the Dogra forces, and women who chose to marry outside the state. The provisions were discriminatory and violated fundamental rights guaranteed to every Indian under the Constitution. But Centre could do little as J&K had its own constitution.
Articles 370 and 35A thus enabled a constitutionally approved apartheid system to exist in J&K, which at one end gave special political, administrative and legal powers to a minuscule elite and, on the other, discriminated against women and other weaker sections of society. Repealing of the provisions of Article 370 and Article 35A, in one stroke, made all citizens equal beneficiaries of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Over 10,000 Valmikis (Dalits who worked as safai karamcharis) have finally got domicile rights. Nothing could be more shameful than the fact that because of Article 35A, all job opportunities other than that of safai karamcharis were denied to the Valmikis, regardless of their educational qualifications and ability.
Over 20,000 West Pakistani refugees now have democratic and property rights – something that was denied to them for seven decades. In addition, each family has received a financial grant of `5,50,000. Also, a woman from the state will now not lose her domicile if she marries outside the state. In addition, 170 progressive laws such as Right to Education, Right to fair compensation for land acquired, Maintenance & Welfare of Parents & Senior Citizens Act-2001, National Commission for Minority Act and Acts for benefit of Women, Children, Disabled, besides the 73rd and 74th amendments have now become applicable to J&K.
Benefits of reservation have also now been extended to the marginalised sections. Over the past year, reservation has been estended to Pahari-speaking people (4%) and economically weaker sections (10%). In addition, benefits of reservation, which were available only to people living along the Line of Control, have now been extended to those residing on the International Border. Benefits under the 7th Central Pay Commission have also been passed on to government employees.
To bring transparency, the J&K State Vigilance Commission Act, 2011 has been replaced and the Anti-Corruption Bureau of J&K brought under the direct supervision of Central Vigilance Commission. All provisions of Central RTI Act 2005 have also been enforced. Measures to strengthen the justice delivery mechanisms have also been introduced. A year is but a short time to see the beneficial impact of the changes wrought, but history will bear testament to the fact that this was the most enabling legislation, brought forth to fully integrate the Union of India.
(The writer is currently director, India Foundation)