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Outcry against J&K Bill on women's status

Outcry against J&K Bill on women's status

Author: Aarti Dhar
Publication: The Hindu
Date: March 7, 2004
URL: http://www.hindu.com/2004/03/07/stories/2004030706070100.htm

There is a national outcry against the Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill, 2004 passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on Friday. The Bill seeks to disqualify women from their status as permanent residents of the State if they marry a non-resident.

With the passing of the Bill, the State Government has turned an executive order into law that deprives women of the right to own and inherit immovable property, get government jobs and other privileges if they marry "non- State subject." Ironically, those affected by the law include the younger daughter of the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and two daughters of the former Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, who are married to non- residents.

Apparently not happy with the development, the Congress - an ally of the Peoples Democratic Party-led coalition in the State - said today that it would issue necessary directions to its Jammu and Kashmir unit to "rectify" the Bill that had reversed the High Court judgment. The Court had described the executive order as a "violation of the fundamental rights of the women, granted to them under the Constitution and discriminatory on the basis of sex" and ruled that women would have the same rights as men even if they married outsiders.

The Congress chief spokesperson, S. Jaipal Reddy, told reporters here that the party had always been in favour of protecting women's rights at all costs. "If there is any legal problem due to the special status of the State, it would be removed as per law."

The State had filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the High Court judgment. However, it was subsequently withdrawn and the Bill was tabled on the ground that the Government had the right under the State Constitution to define the legal status of women who married outside the State.

BJP's criticism

The Bharatiya Janata Party also criticised the Bill and said that it was unfortunate that a party led by a woman was supporting such a law and thus repeating its performance vis-à-vis the Shah Bano case. The party president, Venkaiah Naidu, said he hoped that all well-meaning people, including the Left parties supporting the Mufti Government, would make clear their stand on the law.

A law defining the rights of the "State subject" was first enacted in 1927 by the then ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, and it was converted into an executive order. The order was challenged by the granddaughter of the former Chief Minister (Prime Minister as he was known then), G.M. Bakshi. She had lost her status as permanent resident after she married the son of the former Punjab Governor, Surendra Nath. It was on this petition that the High Court gave its ruling in October 2002.

Women's groups have strongly reacted to the Bill. The All- India Democratic Women's Association said that while it was necessary to protect the demographic profile of the State, it could not be done through the enactment of a highly discriminatory law against women.

"The law is also insensitive to the plight of Kashmiri women migrants who are forced to make their living outside the State," Brinda Karat, AIDWA general secretary, said in a statement here.

Also, the Bill had no provision for widows or women who might be deserted. The progeny of such marriages also faced discrimination, Ms. Karat said adding that the Act was against the Constitutional guarantee of equality and must be withdrawn in its present form.

The National Federation of Indian Women said the passage of the Bill clearly showed the "double-standards" of the political parties and the Congress, in this case, when it came to women's empowerment. On the one hand, the Congress supported the Women's Reservation Bill and, on the other, backed the Jammu and Kashmir Bill that curtailed the rights of women, Annie Raja of the NFIW said adding that the Bill would stand in the way of women's empowerment.

Ranjana Kumari, convener of the Centre for Social Research, described the Act as a "fundamentalist" piece of legislation that deprived women of their freedom of right to choose their place of living and marriage. "The law violates the Constitution that grants equal rights to women," she said.

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