Jammu, Sep 22: Resentment is brewing in Jammu region and people especially youngsters have chosen unusual ways of expressing their displeasure over what they call “continued neglect by the central government-the government they voted to power enthusiastically.” “We are not being heard. What makes this situation explosive is the way our voice has been stifled. You cannot even hold a placard in your hand and raise your demands peacefully,” is how youngsters are responding when asked how has been life after the abrogation of Article 35-A and dilution of Article 370.
Young Jammuites working with various multinational companies prefer taking time out of their busy schedules and spend the same on creating memes, making videos, singing songs, writing poetry, holding placards with messages for those ruling the state and the centre. This is a new phenomenon which the city has never witnessed in the past. Young people seem to have lost faith in the political parties. Asked about the opposition parties and their silence, youngsters respond with famous Bollywood dialogue “Tum say na ho payega (You won’t be able to do anything).
A young technician working with a multinational company Sandeep Rathore was the first who spent days holding a placard in his hands on the famous Tawi Bridge, expressing anguish over the martyrdom of security forces in Kashmir valley. He followed this up with placards on several other issues. Then, appeared from nowhere, Mask Man. A young middle-class boy in a Hawaiian shirt with no interest either in political or in the religious issues came up with a music video after he was summoned to the police station and told not to use public spaces for clicking photos with a placard in his hands.
This young man with a Guy Fawkes Mask is now known as a pioneer of silent protest in Jammu. Mask Man was detained by police for standing alone in Bahu Plaza area while he held a placard questioning the government’s anti-people decisions by mocking it with the hashtag #BewakoofNabanao. Though he was released on the same day, the actions led to the beginning of a new kind of protest in Jammu. Posts and pictures demanding the release of Mask Man swarmed across social media and a few days later, other youth identifying themselves as Black Man & Helmet Man emerged.
Black Man, put on a black face mask and held placards with the demands of the youth- the restoration of 4G internet, 50k jobs and all the things that were promised but not delivered. Helmet Man found an even more creative way of pointing out the lack of development by posing next to potholes, pretending to fish. More than a year has passed after J&K’s special status was scrapped with the dilution of Article 370 and abrogation of Article 35A to fully integrate erstwhile state with the rest of the country.
Jammu region welcomed the scrapping of special status. A year later, youth have begun silently protesting and have started questioning the rationale behind the centre’s move since they believe nothing much has changed on the ground. And unnecessary curbs have been imposed both on technology and political activism. Mask Man, who loves writing poetry, told The Straight Line (TSL) ”We were sold fancy dreams of jobs, tourism, development. We were told Article 370 was hindering the growth of our state. Jammu gave overwhelming support to everyone including me. But, it has been more than a year and we have received nothing but false promises. 4g is the epic example,” he said.
Restriction on 4G Internet
Youth in Jammu does not mince words while saying that they are agitated over the failure of BJP leadership in Jammu in redressing their issues especially the demand for high-speed internet aka 4g internet. The last time, people across Jammu and Kashmir had access to high-speed 4G internet was on August 4, 2019. 13 months and two Supreme Court judgements later, the situation is still the same except for two districts – Udhampur and Ganderbal.
Up until January, there was complete mobile internet blockade in Jammu and Kashmir and while broadband internet was working in Jammu, the same was not the case in Kashmir. Four days after the Anuradha Bhasin Judgement wherein Supreme Court stated that “freedom of speech and expression through the Internet is an integral part of Article 19(1)(a) and any restriction on it must be in compliance with Article 19(2) of the Constitution,” 2G internet was started for post-paid users in five districts of Jammu who could use only certain white-listed websites while Fixed-line internet was restored in Kashmir only for essential services like hospitals.
Ten days later, 2G internet with only access to white-listed websites was restored in all districts of J&K but the ban on social media was only lifted in March. The decision to restore the internet in two districts of J&K i.e Udhampur and Ganderbal was taken on 8th September. Till date, only 2G internet is available in the rest of Jammu region even though in another PIL in Supreme Court regarding 4G internet in J&K, Solicitor General stated that since 05.08.2019, around 108 terrorism-related incidents have taken place in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir out of which only nine were from Jammu province.
Since the reason cited for restriction of 4G internet is terror attacks and infiltration, it has baffled the general public of Jammu who believes that they are being punished for the crimes of Kashmir. This is the longest ever internet restriction that Jammu and Kashmir have ever faced but unlike Kashmir where Internet shutdowns are a matter of routine, Jammu is still grappling at the reality that the restrictions might continue for longer. As the new year commenced, the demand for Internet restoration and domicile rights was on its peak in Jammu.
One major cause of resentment in Jammu was the establishment of Thandikhui toll plaza on October 11th, less than two weeks after J&K became a Union territory. Within a few months of abrogation, while the traders were still recovering from the losses due to lockdown in Kashmir, the construction of toll plaza began on Jammu-Pathankot National highway in Samba district near Sarore.
With BJP at the centre and governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir, the toll plaza was made functional even though the same BJP in the year 2014 when Congress-led UPA was in power damaged the toll booths in Sarore and prevented NHAI from making toll plaza functional. On May 7, 2014, one of the former BJP ministers Chander Prakash Ganga along with other party members had held violent protests at the site of Thandikhui Toll Plaza.
On paper, the state unit of BJP opposed the establishment of Toll plazas and BJP State President Ravinder Raina even wrote a letter to the Union Minister for Roads, Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari pleading for winding-up the toll Plaza at Thandikhui in Samba district and desisting from constructing one at Lakhanpur in Kathua district.
The story of Lakhanpur toll plaza is interesting. On December 31, 2019; Jammu and Kashmir government abolished tariff on goods which used to be charged at Lakhanpur toll plaza. This was done to meet the demand of the trader’s federation Jammu that this toll plaza is abolished after the special status was done away with since it defeated the purpose of ‘one nation, one tax’ but local industrialists had opposed this demand arguing that it would be a death knell for the local industry.
Locals do say that abolition of toll would have been a landmark step had this not been followed-up by establishing toll plaza a Lakhanpur for levying toll on every vehicle entering inside Jammu and Kashmir. Pertinent to mention that there are five operational Toll Plazas on the National Highway in J&K, which are situated at Ban (Jammu-Udhampur road), Thandikhui (Jammu-Vijaypur road), Kachkoot in Srinagar, Nashri in Ramban and Madha in Chenani. NHDCL is constructing Jammu-Poonch National Highway and has chosen a place in Akhnoor for establishing a toll plaza.
This is likely to create more trouble for the dispensation of lieutenant Governor in Jammu and Kashmir despite Manoj Sinha making all possible attempts to redress issues and grievances of the commoners in Jammu and Kashmir.
Nearly eight months after scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the Centre on late Tuesday night March 31st 2020 amidst the Coronavirus Lockdown notified a law, defining domiciles. Through the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Order, 2020, amendments were made to the state laws and the domicile law opened up various categories of jobs to people from across the country.
According to the notification, ‘any person who has resided in J&K for 15 years or has studied for seven years and appeared in Class 10 or Class 12 exams in an educational institution located in J&K’ would be considered domicile. Other criteria for becoming entitled to domicile status included Migrants, children of residents of J&K who reside outside J&K and Children of central government officials as well.
The notification introduced changes in the J&K Civil Services (decentralisation and recruitment) Act, 2010 and formally allowed people from outside J&K to apply for jobs in the UT. Section 5A stated that jobs with a pay scale of not more than Level IV (25500) were reserved for people with domicile status while anyone could apply for other non-gazetted and gazetted jobs in J&K including people domiciled in J&K.
Initially, there was confusion regarding the new domicile law and national newspapers such as The Hindu erroneously reported that only the domiciles of Jammu and Kashmir would be eligible for all state-level jobs. However, it was later corrected that only level-4 jobs were reserved for those who were deemed to be domicile.
Furthermore, in Sections 6, 7 and 8 of the J&K Civil Services Act, 2010, the words “permanent resident of the State” were substituted with “Domicile of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir” and mandatory residence clause for appointments at district, divisional and state levels was omitted. This opened up district, divisional and state-level jobs for anyone who may or may not be the domicile of J&K.
Since in the erstwhile state of J&K, Article 35A of the constitution empowered the local government to define permanent residents of J&K who enjoyed exclusive job rights and rights to own land and property, after the Centre diluted Article 370 and scrapped Article 35A people living in any part of the country became eligible to the rights which were exclusive to J&K residents. Domicile law was meant as a safeguard for these job rights and land rights for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
In Jammu region, there was widespread outrage over domicile law. On social media, the youth of Jammu posted pictures with placards, made videos condemning the domicile. However, since the law came at a time when Lockdown was in place due to Coronavirus Pandemic, there were no protests.
BJP State President Ravindra Raina himself admitted that people were by and large against the domicile law and were saying “We have been made Chowkidar and peon with these fourth class employment.” However, he said that it was false propaganda since the law says “Level-4” not “Class-4”.
He had also said, “If you consider the Reservation Act, 50% jobs are already reserved for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Even the states where there is no Domicile, 90% of the youth that is a resident of that state get the employment. You can study the data of Department of Statistics and Programming. The figures speak for themselves. I guarantee that despite this domicile law, J&K’s youth will successfully compete and get employed here.”
“The timing of this Domicile law is so unfortunate. Amid a worldwide Pandemic, they have brought such a shameful law. Since the 90s J&K has been suffering firstly due to militancy and regular curfews and now with unemployment. The youth of Jammu was hopeful after Prime Minister and Home Minister’s commitment that this new regime would be one of prosperity. They were expecting a special package where more employment avenues would be open for the youth of Jammu,” said Ratan Lal Gupta, Senior National Conference Leader.
After major pushback from Jammu region, within a short span of 72 hours, Centre amended the domicile law redefining recruitment and reserving all government jobs for the domiciles of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The criteria of the domicile remained unchanged but the clause restricting only Level-4 jobs for the domiciles was omitted.
Despite that, there was aversion in Jammu regarding the new Domicile law as well which became more evident when the Domicile rules were notified wherein a Permanent Resident Certificate Holder would also have to apply for Domicile certificate but the only document required was the PRC. Rules were set for issuing of domicile certificate to others who were made eligible as well.
The delay in issuance of Domicile certificates despite government first setting a timeline of 15 days and later of 5 days has further aggravated the people.
Another glaring resentment in Jammu region is due to rising unemployment, flawed job policies and unprecedented delay in conducting exams since October 2019.
For six months after Jammu and Kashmir was turned into a Union Territory, Jammu Kashmir Public Service Commission remained headless and without members. As such, many recruitments in Jammu and Kashmir stopped. Interviews of KAS 2018 batch could not occur, posts were not being referred to JKPSC and the unemployed youth was disappointed. Their plight was further aggravated when the Administrative Council of Lt Governor Girish Chandra Murmu decided to scrap the recruitment of Jammu and Kashmir Bank, the process of which was initiated in 6 October 2018.
On 15th April, J&K Bank after a Board meeting decided to act upon the recommendation of the administrative council and scrapped the entire recruitment process for Bank Probationary Officers and Banking Associates. This notification was uploaded on J&K Bank’s website on 27th April which was nearly two months after SAC asked J&K Bank, “to initiate a fresh, new, fair norm-based and transparent recruitment process for 250 POs and 1,200 banking associates through the IBPS in a fair and transparent manner”.
Giving no concrete reasons as to why the recruitment was being scrapped, Government spokesperson and Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal at a press conference said that it was due “various legal infirmities” that had been pointed out in the ongoing process. Since the reason is yet unknown, various legal luminaries have their own point of view about it.
One reason being talked about was that the result of the preliminary exam of JK Bank was taken out on District-basis which is not the case for gazetted post and is otherwise also not the recruitment procedure. However, upon pressure and regular protests from the aspirant, a uniform cut-off was notified by the then Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Bank Pervaiz Ahmed. But aspirants still wonder, why then the Mains exam were conducted and the process was not scrapped right away. Also, the exam for Banking associate was a one-step exam and did not have any such legal infirmity.
The issue was sensationalised when an audio recording which is allegedly of ex-Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Satya Pal Malik was released on social media in which he is heard talking to an aspirant of Jammu and Kashmir Bank and stating that the recruitment was probably scrapped because more aspirants of Jammu had gotten selected and the people at the helm of affairs felt that aspirants of Kashmir would make an issue out of it.
Jammu and Kashmir Bank later notified that the recruitment process would be started afresh with all earlier aspirants made eligible automatically to appear in the exams but the matter has gotten stuck in litigation. Governor of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir Satya Pal Malik had promised 50,000 jobs for the youth of J&K. Later, Lt Governor of J&K UT Girish Chandra Murmu announced that “40,000 educated local youths will soon be adjusted in different government departments in the UT”, a month after taking charge. He later announced that the selection process for 10,000 vacancies have been identified for accelerated recruitment. Majority of these were Class IV vacancies for which graduates and youth with qualification more than Class 12th were made ineligible.
The Masked youth and other silent protestors are acting as a ‘Wake up Call’ with #BewakoofNabanao becoming a trend. Many other artists and comedians have resorted to making fun of the promises of the government and mocking UT President of J&K BJP as a way of showing their resentment.