No representation of Jammu Muslims, Sikhs in J&K High Court in 88 years
Only 3 Kashmiri Muslims reached the top slot and held the CJ’s chair for less than 3 years since 1928; one of them worked for 2 years, 2 others for less than 6 months
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU, Jan 7: Constituting a substantial chunk of the population in Jammu division, Muslim or the Sikh minority have never found a representation in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in its history of the last 88 years. While as the major share of judges and Chief Justices has gone to the Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits and the Jammu Hindus, Mr Justice Tashi Rabstan is the first—and so far the last—judge of the JKHC who has been picked up from the Buddhist minority or the entire Ladakh region, in March 2013.
Of the 33 judges who were appointed as CJs since 1928, 10 have been Muslims. While as three of them — Mian Jalal-ud-din (1978-80), Mufti Baha-ud-din (1983) and Bashir Ahmad Khan (2007) — were Kashmiri Muslims, all the seven others were from different Indian States. In totality, even the Kashmiri Muslims, the largest majority in the State, retained the top chair for less than 3 years in 88 years, since the State High Court assumed embryonic form in Maharaja's rule in 1928.
Freedom fighter and lawyer Mian Jalal-ud-din was the first Kashmiri Muslim who functioned as CJ of JKHC. Of the three Kashmiri Muslims, he alone worked as CJ for more than one year. He held the top position from February 15, 1978, to February 22, 1980.
While as Mufti Baha-ud-din was transferred from J&K by Indira Gandhi’s Congress government at the Centre without regard to then Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah’s threats and protests in August 1983, within six months of his taking over as the 12th CJ of JKHC in March 1983, Justice Bashir Ahmad Khan functioned as CJ from January 25 to March 31 in 2007. However, some Kashmiri Muslim judges officiated as CJ for brief stop-gap arrangements.
Among the 71 judges of JKHC, 23 were Kashmiri Muslims and 11 Kashmiri Pandits. With some representation to Jammu, many of the the judges were brought in from different Indian States. Three of them—S.S. Kang (1989-93), T.S. Doabia (1997-2003) and Virender Singh (2007-14) — were Sikhs from Punjab.
The Jammu Hindus got different occasions to function as CJ or judge in JKHC. The Jammu Muslims, who constitute more than 30% of the population in the region and have around 500 of them as members of the 3,000-strong High Court Bar Association, Jammu, did never get a chance. Sikhs, who constitute 10% of the HCBA membership and have a substantial concentration in Jammu, and are a minority in the Valley, were also never picked up as judges for JKHC.
Even as judges or CJs are not essentially picked up from ethnic, regional, religious, linguistic, gender or cultural identities, there are remarkable instances when the selections were influenced with interventions from different pressure groups and corridors of power in New Delhi. If well-placed judicial sources are to be believed, eminent lawyer Mr Sunil Hali was appointed as a judge of JKHC within months of a communication from Rashtrapti Bhawan, seeking representation to the Kashmiri Pandit minority and satisfaction to a “sentiment”, in 2008.
Again in 2013, lawyer Tashi Rabstan was appointed as a judge of JKHC when influential political and religious entities from Leh to New Delhi had built up considerable pressure for giving “due representation” to the Ladakh region and the Buddhist minority. Such campaigning however did not work when names of some Jammu-domicile Muslim lawyers had been even recommended by the Collegium.
On different occasions, the Collegium of JKHC had recommended leading criminal lawyer Ghulam Nabi Goni, his son and former Advocate General Mohammad Aslam Goni, besides another former Advocate General Shabir Ahmad Salaria, to fill up some vacancies of the judges in the State High Court. All the three hailed from Jammu region. Of them, Mr Salaria and Mr Aslam Goni also emerged as National Conference leaders. Salaria also served a term as a member of Rajya Sabha. However, not one of them became a judge in JKHC.
As lately as in 2012, when Mr B.S. Salathia was President of HCBA Jammu, his association submitted a memorandum to then visiting Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, seeking representation to the Jammu Muslims in the State High Court. However, no Muslim from Jammu, or a Sikh from J&K, was picked up when four judges — Ali Mohammad Magrey, Dhiraj Singh Thakur, Tashi Rabstan and Janak Raj Kotwal— were appointed as judges in March, 2013, and three more — Bawa Singh Walia (2015), Ramalingam Sudhakar (2016) and Alok Aradhe (2016) — were transferred to JKHC from different States.
No Jammu Muslim or Sikh does also figure among the seven lawyers and three judges currently under consideration of the competent authority in New Delhi.