August 2018
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Kashmir on edge ahead of Supreme Court hearing on Article 35A today
(Srinagar, Aug 05, 2018):There was a widespread shutdown in Kashmir on Sunday in protest ahead of Monday’s hearing in the Supreme Court on a batch of petitions challenging the validity of Article 35A of the Constitution that guarantees special privileges to Jammu and Kashmir.

Srinagar woke up to deserted roads and markets as businesses and shops were closed and public transport remained off the roads amid heavy deployment of security forces in several areas.

Separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, under the banner of Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), had called for the two-day shutdown on Sunday and Monday across the state, blaming “the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) of attempts to change the “demography” of the state.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a clutch of petitions against the Article 35A, which empowers the Jammu and Kashmir’s legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to them. Political parties in the state had asked the Supreme Court to defer the hearing, citing upcoming panchayat and urban local body elections.

The separatists had appealed to people to make Monday an “outstanding protest day too and if God forbid any anti-Kashmir judgment is delivered by the court, be ready for a full-fledged peoples agitation”.

“Jammu Kashmir is a disputed territory and the people of this state have a unique identity, a rare distinctiveness and heritage and this uniqueness in fact guarantees our right of self-determination and therefore no Kashmiri can think of allowing any tinkering with this uniqueness, which is also known as state subject law,” a statement by the separatists said.

The Jammu and Kashmir unit of the BJP said on Saturday the party was open to a debate over Article 35A. “The continuation of Article 35A will not have any benefit for the state. The central government has pumped crores of rupees into the state over the last 70 years but the development has not been as it should have been,” the state BJP chief spokesperson Sunil Sethi said.

Many residents said on Sunday the intensity of shutdown was unprecedented, citing the example of auto-rickshaws being off the roads, which they said had rarely happened in the past 30 years in the Valley. Even the Dal Lake’s iconic shikaras (leisure boats) lay moored in the jetties.

“There is an unprecedented concern among people that our special status will be revoked and our land will open to machinations from outside. How can we remain silent?” said 34-year-old Javaid Ahmad, a Shikara owner.

State authorities suspended movement of Amarnath Yatra convoys from Jammu to Kashmir owing to the shutdown even though the pilgrims present in Kashmir were allowed to move towards the cave shrine from the two base camps.

A sit-in followed by a protest rally was organized by traders in the city-centre against any change in state’s special status.

“Kashmir is a political issue and any change in our laws to weaken our position won’t be allowed. People of J&K won’t allow anybody or any government to play with our (special) laws,” said Yasin Khan, president of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation.

Four petitions – three clubbed with the main one filed by NGO We The Citizens – have challenged Article 35A’s legality on the ground that it was never presented before Parliament and was implemented on the President’s orders in 1954. Under the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 1954, the provision appears as an “appendix” in the Constitution and not an amendment.

The strike call was supported by many organisations, including trade, travel and tourism bodies and civil society members, who have also threatened mass protests.

“The ordinary Kashmiri is worried about his future. Everybody is waiting with bated breath as to what the Supreme Court will pronounce on Article 35A,” said senior journalist Altaf Hussain.

Since August 1, there have been repeated protests in the state against any change in Article 35A and Article 370, with the state’s main political parties such as the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party taking to the streets. Senior Congress leaders in the state have also warned of a massive agitation if Article 35A is tweaked.

While Article 370 of the Constitution grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, Article 35A disallows people from the rest of India from buying or owning immovable property in the state, settle permanently, or get state government jobs.

“Any fiddling with state’s special position is fraught with the dangerous consequences and could turn the state into a veritable inferno, leaving all the peace building measures of the past in tatters. It is a high time that instead of a confrontational attitude, the central government needs to put its best foot forward and explore the ways that could make peace an inseparable feature of the state,” said Peoples Democratic Party chief spokesman Rafi Ahmad Mir on Sunday.

The state police have said that peaceful protests will be allowed. “If people want to observe a shutdown, it is their will but they should do it peacefully,” director general of police Shesh Paul Vaid said.

The situation throughout the Valley on Sunday remained calm, with stray cases of stone-pelting, a police officer said.

The Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association and the NC have filed applications in the Supreme Court to defend the constitutional provision.

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