The end of Article 370 heralds a new beginning for many Kashmiris, despite the doom and gloom in some quarters over its revocation. Now Kashmiris will not require any certificate to prove they are Kashmiris. This demise has given freedom from bondage, freedom from having to live with a stamp and, above all, freedom to exercise the right of choice. The bondage was cruel for the Kashmiri woman whose life decisions were totally tied to her father or husband as conditioned by Article 370. She had no freedom and in case she did, the sacrifice was unimaginable. To lose the right to your birthplace is one which cannot be compensated and the pain is something which cannot be put into words. But that is how it used to be with the women in Kashmir before August 5, 2019.
A Kashmiri woman’s state subject certificate was made on the basis of her father or her husband and not on her own individual basis. After her marriage, her certificate had to be renewed and a new one was issued on the basis of her husband. In case she married a non-Kashmiri, then that was the end of her status as a citizen of Kashmir. Her children were not considered Kashmiri and they had no rights in the state. Nahida is a software engineer from Baramulla. She is a Kashmiri Muslim woman who chose to follow her heart and married a non-Kashmiri Muslim. At the time of her marriage, she knew she would lose a lot because of the conditions laid down by Article 370. Her father owns a lot of property in Kashmir, which her relatives were eyeing. But, now with Article 370 gone, she is brimming with happiness and is confident of having a future for her family in the Valley. Her two children will also be considered as Kashmiris.
If Article 370 was detrimental to Kashmiri women, it had become gruelling for the minorities, especially for the Kashmiri Pandits to procure the certificates. The Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the Valley in early 1990s and many of them lost their properties and documents. For them it was a struggle to prove themselves as Kashmiris. Having a state subject certificate helped them avail benefits of the schemes by the central and state governments, but in its absence no claim could be made to anything connected to Kashmir. “It was not easy to get the state subject certificate for our children. The process was deliberately made more difficult and cumbersome for my community,” says Satish Mahaldar, a Kashmiri Pandit activist. He says “such conditions were laid for us that it was becoming impossible for us to get the certificates made for our children.”
A Delhi-based businesswoman Sunita Raina had to spend a month in Jammu to get the state subject certificate for her 18-year-old son. She says, “I had to be on my toes and regularly follow my case which I could not have done from Delhi. So I relocated to Jammu for pursuing my case.” Sunita was fortunate to obtain the certificate, but there have been cases where parents were unable to find a way to prove themselves as Kashmiri state subjects.
Ashok Hakoo remembers the day many years ago when he took his two sons to the concerned department in Kashmir for completing the process of making the state subject certificates. He says, “The officer in charge there asked my sons to speak in Kashmiri. Since they lived mostly outside the country, their Kashmiri was not good at all. The officer dismissed our case, saying we are not Kashmiris and that my sons were dark in complexion.” Hakoo did not leave the case there. He escalated the matter and finally got the job done.
Several Kashmiri Pandit organisations had taken up the matter of what they saw as the discriminatory attitude of the administration towards them. Recently, a delegation from the community led by Mahaldar met the Minister of State for Home Affairs and complained about the deliberate moves in Kashmir to deny them the certificates. Mahaldar says, “Denial of certificates would have had a detrimental effect for us, as this was a way to curb our numbers. They knew we are also stakeholders.” In view of the absence of the state subject certificates, the community feared a loss of identity.
Now with Article 370 revoked, the community is heaving a sigh of relief. No longer will they have to prove that their children are Kashmiri state subjects and no longer will efforts be made to deny their community strength. The scrapping of Article 370 has brought cheers to many groups and communities from Kashmir. This is one death that is being celebrated in the whole country. As a new era begins in Jammu and Kashmir, there will be no boundaries and bondages and no Kashmiri will need a certificate of identity.