Why Abdullahs wives & daughters were legal; But not so of other women of J & K

1st August 2020

1st August 2020

Abdullahs with their wives: A file photo

(This is the fourth piece in the special series on Jammu and Kashmir. Here are the first three pieces I , II  and III). 

The Constitution of India guarantees gender parity and this is one of the basic tenets enshrined in this document. Under this enunciation, men and women have equal rights. Be it in education, jobs, or political sphere, women can't be discriminated against and denied anything on the basis of gender alone.

Of course, positive discrimination exists whereby enabling legislations have been framed for providing maternity leave to women, reservations in educational institutions and such other things. All these are meant for emancipation of the women to help them attain their fullest potential.

This right of equality was systematically denied to women Permanent Residents (PRs) of Jammu and Kashmir. This was done blatantly in many spheres but not conceded by the political establishment of the state.

Let us now see how female PRs of J&K were given lesser rights than male PRs.

That will help understand things in a better way. The inequality perpetrated by successive state governments will also perhaps become clear to us.

Male PRs, if they got married outside J&K, could confer their own status on their spouses as also their children. Consequently, the spouses and children of male PRs became PRs. For example, Farooq Abdullah got married to a British citizen, Mollie, and she got PR status, as also his son Omar Abdullah and their daughters.

This privilege of conferring PR status on their spouses and children was, however, denied to female PRs. If and when female PRs got married outside J&K, their rights were severely curtailed. Till October 7, 2002, the law was such that such female PRs lost their PR status. Consequently, all the benefits that were associated with the PR status were also denied to them.

The question of treating male and female PRs equally when they married outside J&K did not arise. Female PRs were given far less rights than their male counterparts. As such, it becomes clear that the female PRs were treated as inferior to male PRs.

This flies in the face of the equality clause of the Indian Constitution. This interpretation of PR laws prevailed under the garb of "special status" J&K enjoyed under Article 35 A and 370! Meaning thereby that these two articles enabled J&K Legislature and the state Constitution to violate the Indian Constitution.

Incidentally, it is worth mentioning here that this gender discriminatory treatment was contrary to Section 10 of the J&K Constitution also. Section 10 defines the rights of the Permanent Residents and says: 10. The Permanent Residents of the State shall have all the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of India.

In effect, this created a strong bias in favour of the male children in the state. Nationwide, on the other hand, efforts were made all through these years to treat girls and boys the same.

All this was also contrary to Part IV, Directive Principles of the State policy, of the J&K Constitution, from Section 11 to 25. Section 19(a) says: That all permanent residents, men and women equally, have the right to work. Further, Section 22 deals with "Rights of women" and reads: (d) the right to full equality in all social, political and legal matters.

Despite all these safeguards existing in various laws, female PRs were treated shabbily and in an unequal manner. This anti-women behaviour was deeply entrenched in the state governments.

An example of this blatant anti-women behaviour is the Women's (Disqualification) Bill, 2004, passed by the JK assembly on March 5, 2004. However, the Bill could not become a law later because it could not be passed in the Legislative Council later.

That, however, changed nothing though as female PRs were treated as unequal to male PRs in most spheres as earlier.

The changes initiated on August 5, 2019, changed this and women now have equal rights in J&K. Deliberately created confusion and obfuscation ended once 35-A was set aside and Article 370 was neutered. Earlier, some female PRs who were married outside the State had returned home either due to divorce, or death of their husbands. They as also their children were denied PRCs and they had nowhere to go.

Such women, both widows and divorcees, as also their children, have been issued domicile certificates under new laws framed in May 2020. Be it educational institutions, scholarships, jobs or entering political arena, this issuance of domicile certificates has opened many avenues for the women. The women have thus been placed equal to men in J&K for the first time since independence.

For issuance of domicile certificates now, the antecedents of either parent (father or mother) are now being taken into account. The children are getting domicile certificates on the basis of the domicile status of the mothers easily.

Sant Kumar Sharma, a seasoned journalist, is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Two of his books on Article 370 and Delimitation are already out. The third one on Indus Waters Treaty is with the publishers. 

Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.

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