SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir – On 5 August, when the Narendra Modi government scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state, the Act overseeing the functioning of Muslim shrines and properties was abolished.
However, the Acts that oversee Hindu and Sikh shrines remain unchanged.
The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 reads, “Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Specified Waqf and Waqf properties (Management and Regulation) Act, 2004 will be repealed on 31 October and the Central Waqf Act, 1995 will be extended to the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.”
The Reorganisation Act further states, “Amarnath Ji Shrine Act 2000, J&K Shri Mata Sukhrala Devi Ji Shrine and Shri Mata Bala Sundhari Shrine Act 2013, Shri Vaishno Devi Shrine Act 1998, Shri Shiv Kishori Shrine Act 1999 and J&K Sikh Gurdwara and Religious Endowment Act, 1988 will be kept intact.”
The Reorganization Act doesn’t explain the reason for abolishing the Waqf Act, while keeping the Acts governing the other religious bodies.
Achal Sethi, the law secretary of J&K, said that following the bifurcation all central Acts have to be extended to the J&K including the Central Waqf Act. “At the central level, there is no Amarnath, Vaishno Devi and other Hindu and Sikh religious Act and so we have to retain the state Acts of these religious bodies,” he said.
In light of the harassment and violence targeting Muslims since the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in 2014, and recent developments like the bifurcation of India’s only Muslim majority state and the passage of a discriminatory citizenship law, people are nervous about the singling out of the Muslim statutory body.
Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, a senior criminal lawyer in Kashmir, said, “Waqf properties, mostly shrines, will come under the direct control of the central government. We all know what is happening in India. I don’t want to further comment on it.”
Reacting to law secretary Sethi’s explanation of there simply not being Amarnath and Vaishno Devi Acts at the Centre, Syed Lateef, a lawyer who practices in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, said, “Losing Waqf is a small thing. The larger point is that we have lost our identity.”
Mehmood Pracha, a Delhi-based lawyer and the co-convener of the Samvidhan Suraksha Samittee – a committee formed after Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act – made two points. First, the central Waqf Act is very similar to the State Waqf Act, and second, it applies to every Union Territory and state in India.
He added, however, “But the government scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and making applicable the Reorganisation Act is foolishness.”
We all know what is happening in India.
Waqf board writes to the governor
The J&K Muslim Waqf Board, which has an annual income of over thirty crore rupees, is one of the richest organisations in J&K.
In addition to vast tracts of agricultural land, forest land and land on which shrines, schools, mosques and graveyards are built, the Waqf Board has also set up a university – the Islamic University of Sciences and Technology – in Kashmir and runs three nursing colleges.
G.R. Sufi, the Vice-Chairman of the Board, had written to Satya Pal Malik, the former governor of J&K, pleading with him to retain the state Act as they have managed to save the Acts of other religious properties.
The Waqf is yet to receive a response to its letter.
Chief Executive Officer of the J&K Waqf Board, Mufti Farid- ud-din, said, “No official correspondence from the government has come to me as yet.”
Abdul Majeed Bhat, Secretary Revenue Department of J&K, said, “We have sent the letter to GOI (Government of India) as well. Let’s see what they have to say.”
Officials and the heads of other religious boards that HuffPost India spoke with did not appear concerned about the fate of the Waqf Board.
Bipul Phatak, the Chief Executive Officer of the Amarnath Shrine Board, who is also the Principal secretary to Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu, said, “I don’t know about the abolishment of the Waqf Act. I am only concerned about Amarnath Ji Board Act.”
Inderjeet Singh, a member of the Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, said, “We couldn’t have done much about the repeal of the state Waqf Act.”