Life in Kashmir Valley came to a standstill on Sunday due to a complete shutdown called by separatists against the legal challenge in the Supreme Court on the validity of Article 35A which bars people from outside Jammu and Kashmir from acquiring any kind of immovable property in the state.
Peaceful protests were held across the state, with demonstrators vowing to defend the constitutional provision. Traders organisations took out a protest march and also held a sit-in dharna at the Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower) in Lal Chowk in support of continuation of Article 35-A. Similar rallies were also held at Zadibal, Karfali Mohalla, Rainwari, Anchaar, Dalgate, Rambagh, Khanyar and Parimpora.
Officials said that peaceful rallies were carried out at several places in other districts and towns of the Valley. However, officials added that there were reports of minor stone pelting incidents from some parts of the Valley. They added that some miscreants were chased away by the security forces.
There were no reports of anyone getting injured in the clashes, officials said.
Shops and business establishments were closed across the Valley and transport facilities remained off the roads due to the two-day strike called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). Various organisations including the Bar Association, transporters and traders' bodies have extended their support to the shutdown called by JRL, comprising separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Article 35-A on Monday.
The petition in the case has been filed by a Delhi-based NGO, We the Citizens, saying the state’s autonomous status granted by Article 35(A) and Article 370 of the Constitution discriminate against fellow citizens from the rest of the country.
Article 35-A gives special rights to the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir and disallows people from outside the state from buying and owning immovable properties, settle permanently ans avail themselves of state-sponsored scholarship schemes. It also bars the Jammu and Kashmir government from hiring people who are non-permanent residents.
Article 35A was added to Article 370 by a Presidential order in 1954. Article 370 of the Constitution grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, while Article 35A empowers the state legislature to define the state’s “permanent residents” and their special rights and privileges.
According to the NGO, Article 35A should be held “unconstitutional” as the President could not have “amended the Constitution” by way of the 1954 order, and that it was only supposed to be a “temporary provision”. The Article was never presented before Parliament, and came into effect immediately.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has contested the petition, saying the President had the power to incorporate a new provision in the Constitution by way of an order.
Meanwhile, the state government has filed an application before the Registrar of the Supreme Court, informing that it is going to seek adjournment of the hearing of the petition in view of the "ongoing preparations for the upcoming panchayat and urban local body and municipal elections in the state".
Reacting to the issue, outspoken IAS officer Shah Faesal said that repealing of Article 35A of the Constitution would end Jammu and Kashmir's relationship with the rest of the country.
Faesal, a 2010-batch IAS exam topper, is currently pursuing a mid-career masters programme in the US.
"I would compare Article 35A to a marriage-deed/nikahnama. You repeal it and the relationship is over. Nothing will remain to be discussed afterwards," he said in a tweet.
He said the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India took place before the Constitution had come into force.
"Yes and those who say Accession still stands forget that Accession was just like a Roka, because the Constitution had not come into force that time.
Can Roka still bind two people together even after the marriage document is annulled?" he wrote.
The IAS officer, however, said continuing the special Constitutional provisions in respect to Jammu and Kashmir did not pose any threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the country.
"Let's not confuse the issue. Sovereignty and integrity of India can't be challenged. Not at all. But the Constitution has kept some special provisions for J&K state. It's a unique arrangement. It isn't a threat to India's integrity at all," he said.
Faesal is already subject to a disciplinary proceeding initiated by the Jammu and Kashmir government at the request of the Centre's Department of Personnel and Training for posting a tweet about frequent rapes in the country.