PR Bill J&K

Revisiting the PR Bill: Why only Women?

We will not settle for anything less than EQUAL status at par with men.

Yes, it is the 21st century world where women are being considered, not as goods and commodities which could be bought and sold, but as real human-beings entitled to what we call “fundamental rights”, just like those of men. It is a time when globalization is leading the women of today into new roles around the world establishing greater equality to men, where the social role for women is changing from that of the traditional “mother” to that of the “provider” (in addition to being a mother). Unfortunately, we are still living in a society which is yet to comprehend, let alone acknowledge this changing reality. It is still a society where men tend to make decisions for women, despite the fact that social roles have considerably changed. It is a society where it is taken for granted that a woman, after marriage, will and must leave her home and hearth to settle in with her husband, and that she will belong to his family. An opposite scene where a man would join his wife is no less than a blasphemy and a matter of great humiliation; and the possibility for a woman to choose to live on her own is even out of question. In such a scenario, it is unthinkable and even unimaginable for us to admit that our woman is not only quite capable of, but, in fact, is entitled to the right to make decisions on her behalf.

In the year 2004, during the first week of March, a stream of extreme rage and dissatisfaction had passed all up my nerves so that I had to suspend all my day’s work after I read through the headlines of the various local dailies of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. This was about the passage of the J&K Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill 2004 (“PR Bill”) which deprives the women of the state from maintaining Resident status and from the right to own property should they marry a “non-state subject”. Same law, however, would not apply to men in a similar situation. Irrespective of the fact that the Bill was fundamentally flawed and absolutely unjust and discriminating towards one-half of the population of the state, it was unanimously passed. The then National Conference President, Omar Abdullah, himself born of and married to a non-native, had even taken a very strong stance by issuing a whip 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. Shortly afterwards, however, the passage of the Bill had caused a great upheaval in and outside the state in various circles, and it had, at least temporarily, been shelved aside.

After six years, the Bill has resurfaced from the debris to haunt us a second time — this time ironically on the International Women’s day, around exactly the same time of the year (moved by the PDP legistator Murtaza Ahmad Khan on March 8, 2010). Interestingly this time too, the Bill was allowed “unopposed”. What is even more interesting to note is that during the same session, the Minister for Social Welfare, Ms. Sakina Itto has proposed a Bill on Domestic Violence for “empowering women”. Was that a bad joke?

The PDP’s stance may be a bait for the separatist mindset aimed to “safeguard Article 370” (or “special status” of the J & K), or a part of some new political gimmick to regain its lost face, but one must concede that such politicians can no longer make a fool of the womenfolk who are more informed, more confident, and more determined to fight for their rights. There is no rationale whatsoever behind the argument that women’s marrying non-state subjects causes an “imbalance in the state demographics” while the same action by men, committed on a much larger scale than women, does not. It does not take a genius to realize that the Bill is absolutely blind to our women’s basic and fundamental rights.

While many political parties supporting the Bill certainly have their motives, the important question that must be addressed by everyone today, irrespective of our political orientations or ideologies, is: Do the women of the state of Jammu & Kashmir deserve equal treatment as that of men? On the one hand is the question of their basic human and fundamental rights, their right to live with dignity and equal status as that of men in a country which boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, and on the other, is the issue of safeguarding article 370 of the “privileged” state. The answer is more than clear: If such a Bill must pass at any point, it must apply to everyone irrespective of their gender; under these circumstances, the first person to be disqualified from the Resident status must be our honorable Chief Minister, Mr. Omar Abdullah, followed by everybody with similar qualifications. If that is not likely to happen any time, the Bill must be buried for good.

© Sadaf Munshi, March 11, 2010.
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(This article was published in the March 17, 2010 issue of the daily Rising Kashmir available at URL: http://www.risingkashmir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21676&Itemid=53)