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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslim women worst sufferers of J&K Permanent Resident Bill
By Balraj Puri

Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill 2004 of Jammu and Kashmir has become the major controversy and election issue in the state. The issue has been submerged into quagmires of distorted facts, half-truths and ignorance. The commentators in the national media, who mixed it up with irrelevant and extraneous issues, have added to the confusion.

Against Islam, common sense and natural justice: Kashmiri women demonstrating in support of “law” which deprives them of basic rights
Against Islam, common sense and natural justice: Kashmiri women demonstrating in support of “law” which deprives them of basic rights

No doubt the way the state government allolwed itself to be stampeded into rushing through the bill in the state assembly is responsible for the confusion over it. It started with the protest of a member in the assembly over the withdrawal by the state government of its appeal from the Supreme Court against the judgement of the High Court which had rejected an executive order of the government disqualifying women of their status as permanent resident of the state if they married non-permanent residents. The National Conference opposition found in the issue an opportunity to embarrass the government and raised a furore in the assembly.

In a panic reaction, the government placed a hastily drafted bill in the assembly which was passed soon after with a voice vote without any discussion. As controversy over the issue started snowballing, the Congress, CPM, Panthers Party, BJP and many independents withdrew their support to the bill which they had offered to it; with the result that it could not be passed in the legislative council with the requisite two-thirds majority. 

As the chairman adjourned the council, the fissures in the ruling coalition were covered for the time being but it has kept controversy over the bill alive.

The issue has polarised the state politics on regional lines with communal overtones. It is a typical case of two opposite poles which apparently oppose each other but actually support each other. For in this war of regional chauvinism, the arguments used by Kashmir based parties — the PDP and the National Conference — are exploited by Jammu based parties and vice versa. In Jammu the BJP is leading the anti-bill movement as Congress is on the defensive being in the government that had sponsored the bill.

While the Kashmiri parties defend the bill in the name of preserving Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and special status of the state, the BJP finds in the bill justification for its demand for abrogation of the Article 370 under the cover of which women are being discriminated. It describes the bill as a hindrance to national integration. The RSS has called it as anti-national and secessionist which further helps the Kashmiri parties to enlist the support of the secessionist elements in Kashmir.

In reality, the bill has nothing to do with Article 370. For the constitution framed under it and the provision for permanent citizens in it do not permit discrimination against women. Moreover, the High Court, in its judgement in October 2002, rejected an executive order which sought to disqualify women of permanent resident status if they married outsiders on the ground inter alia that it violated fundamental rights of gender equality, which are applicable to the state under Article 370. Thus constitutional status of the bill remains unaffected whether the state becomes like any other state of India, is autonomous or even sovereign as long as fundamental rights are applicable to it.

The argument that the bill discriminates against Jammu is equally fallacious. It only provides additional points to Kashmiri parties to gain sympathy in their region. If at all its adverse effects are more on any community, it is on the Muslim women of Kashmir region who would be the worst sufferers in case the bill becomes a law. Here I borrow some of the arguments and facts from an interview of the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti to a local daily, with approval.
Number of Muslim eligible bachelors is fast declining in Kashmir. Firstly thousands of young men have been killed during last fourteen years of violence. Secondly on account of turmoil in the valley, brighter boy or sons of better off people go outside for higher education where they get an opportunity to choose their life partners from among their class or college mates. Thirdly a large number of Muslim Bihari, Bengali and UP women come as a part of the migratory labour who marry local boys of poor families. 

If PR (Disqualification) Bill becomes a law, avenues for Kashmiri young women would further shrink. Mehbooba rightly warns that Kashmiri Muslim girls may then have to settle down as second wife. She, therefore, suggests that unless and until people give a thought to put restrictions on boys marrying outside the state, the adverse ratio of women to men will become very disturbing.

Unfortunately her views could not be incorporated in the bill as, according to her, there was no scope for discussion on the bill and the issue was decided during a day before where she was not invited. But now due to political compulsions she has to campaign for a bill which puts restrictions on women only for marrying outsiders, which, as she herself admitted, would worsen their plight while enlarging the choice for men to choose their spouses.

May be after elections, when the passions will cool down the whole issue would be considered on its merits and demerits without bringing in extraneous and irrelevant issues. 

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