In 2019, we witnessed how the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir remained broiled in controversy. It began after the fallout of Bharatiya Janata Party-People’s Democratic Party [BJP-PDP] government followed by the sudden and unilateral abrogation of Article 370 and its bifurcation into two union territories J&K and Ladakh respectively. Jammu and Kashmir, especially Kashmir is witnessing the longest crackdown with communication channels blocked. Only a few days ago, mobile internet was restored in the newly formed UT of Ladakh which includes Leh and Kargil, but people of Jammu are still protesting for the restoration of mobile internet absence of which has severely affected their daily lives.
As we leave this eventful year and step into 2020, NewsClick travelled to different areas of Jammu city to meet Dogras, Kashmiri Pandits and Gujjar-Bakarwals to understand what they expect from the government. Each community had its own set of demands.
‘We Will Return to Kashmir Soon’
With a kangri (earthen pot filled with hot embers to keep one warm) beneath his pheran, Pran Nath* (name changed) says that he is having a recurring dream. The dream takes him back to his homeland—Kashmir. He believes that he will soon return to his homeland. “There is a lot of noise that Modi government will ensure our return to the homeland. In the next few years, we will be back in Kashmir. I believe it will happen this time,” said Pran Nath. Many Kashmiri Pandits NewsClick spoke with at the Jagti camp echoed his sentiments.
Maharaj Santoshi, a Kashmiri Pandit and a fiction writer saidx, “So far, the BJP has not done anything substantial for KPs. Jagti apartments were already there when BJP came to power. What we expect from the newly formed UT [administration] is better living conditions for Kashmiri Pandits. Jagti—20 kilometres away from the Jammu city—is a place with high concentration of migrant KPs, but there is no proper health facility.”
He added, “For a long time, KPs have been raising the demand of having their own constituency, but it has been ignored. We want our own constituency. Our voice is not heard and is misinterpreted by the media. We want our own constituency with our people raising our voice. KPs might look happy, but they are depressed. They are suffering isolation and psychological trauma.”
Santoshi spoke about his piece of land in Anantnag and how he is unwilling to sell that. “Selling off my land means severing my sense of belonging and I can’t afford to do that. Rural people are more close to their soil than urban people. They don’t want to sell off their land.”
‘Want Separate Statehood for Jammu’
Dogras from Jammu spoke about the separation from the Kashmir Valley. They also demanded restoration of statehood for Jammu. Speaking to NewsClick, Gambir Dev Singh Charak of Dogra Sadar Sabha said, “We want statehood for Jammu separately. Jammu has always suffered because of Kashmir. We thought we will benefit under this new arrangement. We thought we will be separated from Kashmir, but instead, we were demoted. Now, we want the central government to think about the people of Jammu and give special status Article 371 just like in Himachal. It would mean that only those who have lived in Jammu for 30 years can buy land.”
Speaking about development and lack of employment in Jammu, Gambhir said, “Eighty percent jobs should be given to the people of Jammu and 20% to the outsiders.”
“There is a dire need of development in Jammu. We have been pushing for investors’ meet for a very long time. They have been delaying it since September. Every month, they come up with a new date. It can’t work this way,” he added.
Ravi, who also belongs to the Dongra community, told Newsclick, “We fear that we will lose our land and that is why we need the government’s assurance—that our land will not be given to the outsiders. Jammu has been a hub of nationalist forces. The central government can’t do this injustice to us.”
‘Upgrade UT to State, Hold Elections’
The Gujjar-Bakarwals and SC/ST communities in \Jammu demanded “upgrading” of the UT to a state. Speaking to NewsClick, Masood Chowdhary, former AGDP and first vice-chancellor from the Bakarwal community, said, “Jammu and Kashmir is the oldest state, the central government should think and promptly upgrade the newly formed UT to a state. In India, there are states with population of 12 lakh. How can they demote a state with one crore population to a UT? Morever, we want the Central government to effectively upgrade the SC/ST rules.”
For a long time, Gujjars in Jammu have been demanding that Centre to raise a “Gujjar regiment” in the army like Dogra Regiment, Ladakh scouts and others. Speaking about this, Chowdhary said, “We want Gujjar scouts to be there like Ladakh Scouts. This is a very old demand. We want the sacrifices of our Gujjars to be known to everyone and to be duly recognised by the country.”
Speaking about the current status of the UT Jammu, Chowdhary said, “A state of 1 crore people cannot be handled by bureaucrats. People-to-people connection is important. We hope that the PM is sincere and soon, the elections will be held. We also hope that 10-12% reservation will be given to SC/ST.”