Anti-women Kashmir Bill Sparks Fury
7 March 2004
The Asian Age
Srinagar: The adoption of the Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly last week is snowballing into a major controversy, with the BJP terming the legislation 'reactionary' and 'anti-women.' The bill will be tabled before the Legislative Council on Tuesday. The Kashmiri pandits are equally angry as the legislation provides for disqualification from being a permanent resident of the state on the marriage of a female permanent resident with a non- permanent resident. This implies that a woman who is a permanent resident of Jammu and Kashmir will cease to have ownership rights over any immovable property in her home state on being married to a non-state subject. She will also lose her right to certain other benefits as a permanent resident under the provisions of the State Subject Law of 1927 and Article 370 of the Constitution, which guarantees the state a special status in the Indian Union. The logic behind the pandits' opposition is understandable. Many of their women have married non-state subjects, particularly after the vast majority of Kashmir's otherwise microscopic minority community fled their homes amid the rising separatist violence in 1989-90. But the growing feeling here is that the BJP and its allies are raising the issue only to settle its own political scores with the Congress, whose members were party to the legislation. In fact, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly passed the bill unanimously on Friday after almost all members had discussed it threadbare with state finance, law and parliamentary affairs minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig in meetings outside the House. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu has already announced that his party will make this a major issue in the campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress appears to be unnerved at the threat, and is preparing to face the onslaught. The party high command is reported to have called senior Congress leaders and legislators from the state to New Delhi for consultations. Several other political parties opposed to the Congress and its major partner in the Jammu and Kashmir government - chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed's People's Democratic Party - are also training their guns at the coalition and are trying to gain political benefit out of the issue. But Kashmir watchers warn that politicising the issue could well boomerang or will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications on the relationship between its people and the rest of the country. They point out that the Centre is now making an all-out effort to win over Kashmiri separatists and remove the alienation among the members of the majority community - the Muslims. The talks underway between the Hurriyat Conference (Abbas) and deputy prime minister L.K. Advani are still being seen as a major political breakthrough achieved by the Centre on the Kashmir issue, despite aberrations caused by some recent incidents involving the security forces. If the BJP or any of its allies in the NDA toughens its stand on the legislation, the only message it would be sending to the people of the state is that the Prime Minister's initiative on Kashmir is only an eyewash, and that the Centre cannot be trusted, say Kashmir watchers. 'Of course it will have an adverse impact on the thinking of the people, particularly those who are opposed to the idea of resolving the Kashmir issue amicably through dialogue with the Centre will have a field day. They will exploit the public sentiment,' said a senior Hurriyat Conference leader. The BJP therefore has to choose between what it says and what it does on the Kashmir front. By not implementing the assurance given to the Hurriyat faction leaders at their first round of talks with Mr Advani and now opposing the state subject legislation, it is only losing yet another opportunity to resolve the Kashmir issue. Some sources here claim that it is a 'fallacy' that the legislation is an expression of male chauvinism or that it is discriminatory towards women. Such a law already exists in Jammu and Kashmir, ever since the mid-1920s when the then autocratic Dogra ruler got it enacted on the urging of his ministers and courtiers. Incidentally, many of the then maharaja's advisers were Kashmiri pandits. Their worry is that affluent Punjabis, mainly Muslims, were inclined to purchase land and immovable properties in the picturesque Valley. Many of the summer houses owned by these Punjabi Muslims prior to the 1947 Partition still exist in Kashmir. These were later taken over by the government or are now being looked after by the custodian department. 'We Kashmiris are a poor people and can't withstand money power even today,' said a Srinagar resident, Abdul Majid. To cite an example, a journalist pointed out that one of the luxury hotels in the city had been given on lease to a Delhi businessman 'who in the absence of such a law could have ownership rights over the property if he or his son marries a state-subject.' The Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill 2004 was necessitated by a state high court ruling on the status of women from Jammu and Kashmir marrying outside the state. It had held in its judgment on the case State of Jammu and Kashmir vs Dr Susheela Sawhney that there was no provision in existing law dealing with the status of a female permanent resident who marries a non-permanent resident. The court further held that the state legislature was empowered under Section 8 of the Jammu and Kashmir constitution to make such a law. The state law minister, in consultation with legislators from various parties including the National Conference and the CPI(M), drafted the proposed legislation on Thursday evening, and it was tabled in the House the next day. The bill passed by the House unanimously provides that a female permanent resident of the state on her marriage with a non-permanent resident shall lose the status of permanent resident after such marriage. Mr Baig said the proposed law, however, does not alter the legal position of female descendants of permanent residents in the matter inheritance, which will continue to be in accordance with the personal law applicable to them. The BJP has only one member in the Assembly, who was reportedly invited to the deliberations prior to introduction of the bill. The next day, when the bill was tabled, the BJP MLA, Mr Jugal Kishore, did not turn up. However, while sharply reacting to the adoption of the bill, minister of state for defence Chaman Lal Gupta, who hails from the state, termed it a 'crude attempt' to bypass the verdict of the high court and the basic principles of the Indian Constitution, which provided equal rights to all persons, including women. Prof. Gupta said it was strange that if a man marries a non-state subject he does not lose his rights, but if a woman adopts this course she is deprived of ownership rights over property. 'It is sheer cruelty against our daughters and all right- thinking countrymen should raise their voice against this injustice,' he said.