Several shops and business establishments were shut and public transport services were off the roads in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday as the Valley observed a complete shutdown against the hearing of a plea challenging Article 35-A of the Constitution in the Supreme Court.
The article, incorporated into the Indian Constitution in 1954, grants special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear the petitions challenging its validity on February 13 or 14.
The Joint Resistance Leadership, a union of separatist groups, had called for the two-day shutdown on Tuesday. Various trades bodies and transport associations, including the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries extended their support to the shutdown. “The late announcement and ambiguity over the dates of hearing of 35A and 370 by Supreme Court on 13 or 14 of February is worrisome, and indicates mischief,” the separatist leaders said in a statement.
“Leadership warned the authorities that if anything adverse to the interests of the people of J&K and its disputed status is announced through the courts, a mass people’s agitation will be started instantly across the state and the responsibility of the consequences of that will be entirely on those forcing us to react,” it added.
On Monday, the Jammu and Kashmir government had sought adjournment of hearing in the case. In a letter to the top court’s secretary general, M Shoeb Alam, the standing counsel of the Jammu and Kashmir government, had submitted that the state “will be seeking adjournment in the matter because there is presently no elected government in Jammu and Kashmir and the state is under President’s Rule”.
“The present matter involves a sensitive issue regarding a challenge to Article 35A of the Constitution of India,” the letter added. “A short reply has been filed by the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the lead matter and notices have not been issued in the other petitions. It will therefore be requested that the matter may kindly be heard when an elected government is in place.”
A total of four petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the legality of Article 35A on the grounds that it was never presented before Parliament and was implemented on the President’s orders in 1954. The petitioners argue that Jammu and Kashmir became an “integral part of India” when it acceded to the Union, so there is no question of special status or treatment.
The plea argues that the article denies property rights to women who marry citizens from outside Jammu and Kashmir. It also allows the Assembly to define “permanent residents” of the state. In 2002, however, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had said that women from the state retain their property rights even if they marry men from outside the state
In August last year, the Supreme Court had adjourned the hearing till January after requests from the central and state governments that cited potential law-and-order problems during the panchayat and local body elections in the state.