As I read through the firing headlines of the past few days in the local dailies of the state today, a stream of rage and dissatisfaction passed all up my nerves and I had to suspend all my day’s work and assignments out of frustration. This was about the news concerning the passage of the J&K Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill 2004 (PR Bill) which disqualifies women of Jammu & Kashmir for maintaining their resident status and deprives them of their right to own property in the state of Jammu and Kashmir should they marry a non-state subject. Same law will not apply to men in the same situation, however. The passage of “the Bill” caused an upheaval “in and outside the state” and “it ‘fractured’ the unanimity, the rare show of which was displayed in the state assembly”, so said one of the columns in some daily newspaper.
Yes the world has changed, but we still live in a society where for centuries it has been taken for granted that a woman, when married, will have to leave her parental home and live with the husband rather than vice versa or even chose to live on her own. Nobody has ever questioned this unjust institution which has been a trend for such a long period of time in most of the Indian societies. Men will not realize the emotional aspect of this issue, nor will those women who have accepted the long-standing stigmas of our society without pointing a finger at them or ever raising their voices. That is why it didn’t even occur to their mind when the members passed the Bill unanimously that the Bill was fundamentally flawed and absolutely unjust and discriminating towards one-half of the population of the state. I was thinking, as the special status of the state could be diluted by the opposition of the Bill so is men’s gene-pool diluted in the state by their marriages with non-state subjects and this could create a medical or, at least, an ethnic imbalance which would question the “purity” of the men’s gene-pool in the state, and especially since more men have married outside the state than women. I do not see any rationale behind the argument that women’s marrying outside the state is causing an imbalance in the demographic results of the state where men’s doing so is not.
It is amazing and unbelievable how forcefully the Bill was defended on grounds of the argument that its enactment would help maintain the “special status” that the state has retained since the implementation of Article 370. While the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry called the passing of the Bill “a step in the right direction” to protect a law enacted in 1927 by Maharaja Hari Singh (I would hope the Maharaja had better power of reasoning than he actually did), Democratic Freedom Party leader Shabir Shah criticized the Indian leaders accusing them of resorting to “dual policy” for their opposition on the Bill (It is not clear to me, however, what he actually meant by “dual policy” here, or whether it was simply one of those ritual statements aimed against the Indian leaders. I would rather he could see the inherent “dual policy” of the Bill towards dealing with rights of men and women). National Conference President Omar Abdullah took an even stronger stance by issuing a whip of the party for ensuring a “smooth passage of the PR Bill 2004” warning that any violation would entail action in terms of Anti Defection Law against its Legislative Council members should they oppose the Bill. This reminded me that Omar Abdullah was probably married to a non-state subject, and so was his father, or weren’t they? On that count, his son, who will be only one-fourth on the scale of strength of ethnic purity, will still maintain the right to state-subject but I, with both my parents as the subjects of the state by birth and ethnicity, and therefore, ethnically hundred percent pure, will be denied subjecthood for being a female should I marry a non-state subject. It would have been very interesting if he were a woman still supporting the Bill after marrying a non-state subject.
Although not very surprising, but definitely an embarrassing situation, especially for women like me, is that the only three women members of the House also endorsed the Bill without much ado. Well, why not? After all they don’t intend to be kicked out of the lobby that so generously houses them. I wonder how long it will take us to say “no” to injustice and discrimination. It did surprise me for a while that Kashmiri women had protested on the streets of Lal Chowk and Maulana Azad Road to “save article 370”. I bet they did not realize what the consequences of the Bill meant for those women who strive hard, tooth and nail, to the end of their lives, for their rights in a male-oriented, male-ruled and male-controlled society.
Call it a “dual policy” of Indian rulers (as declared by Mr. Shah) or an attempt to “erode or dilute Article 370 of the Constitution” (as argued by Abdullah, and since the Bill doesn’t affect him) which “guarantees special status to the people of the state”, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the Bill is absolutely blind to women’s rights and denies them a fundamental right to choose their subjecthood. If people are so intent on maintaining the “special status” of the state, I would rather extend the clause in both directions which would debar everyone, irrespective of their gender, from the resident status after marrying a non-state subject. But, because it is more or less a government of the men folk, by the men folk, and therefore, for the men folk, any such possibility seems to be far from a reality. While many political parties opposing the Bill may certainly have their political agendas, motives and interests, the major issue that the opposition raised and should be addressed by everyone, irrespective of their political orientations remains: Do women deserve equal treatment as men in this state or not? On the one hand it is a question of basic human and fundamental rights for women, their right to live with dignity and equal status in a particular society as that of men, in a particular country that boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, and on the other, it is an issue of “saving article 370” of the privileged state. Of the two, which one is of more critical importance? Let us see.
© Sadaf Munshi
(This article appeared in the March 11, 2004 issue of the daily Kashmir Observer )