Don't Tamper With Bill, Say Kashmiri Leaders
10 March 2004
The Asian Age
New Delhi: The Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill is fast assuming a Kashmiri identity versus the rest of India dimension with the Srinagar groups consolidating behind the legislation depriving Kashmiri women who marry men from outside the state of permanent residential rights. The People's Democratic Party that has hardened its stance will soon be joined by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference that is expected to formalise a decision that the '1927 Bill should not be tampered with at this stage, and could be considered at a later date after a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute.' The state CPI(M) itself found it difficult to resist the upsurge of regional sentiment that appears to have attached itself to the Bill, with legislator Yusuf Tarigami taking a soft position on the BIll that has been decried by political parties and womens groups in the rest of India as being highly discriminatory and biased. Mr Tarigami told The Asian Age from Srinagar that he wanted a comprehensive Bill after due discussion, and regretted efforts by political parties like the BJP to politicise the issue. He said that the issue was the protection of Kashmiri identity and a wider, more comprehensive Bill should be formulated. PDP leader Ms Mehbooba Mufti is in the forefront now of the campaign supporting the legislation and making it clear that there is no middle path that her government is willing to take on this. The Congress president Sonia Gandhi has intervened urging the chief minister to refer the bill to a select committee but Ms Mufti has made it clear that there is no question of any compromise on what she claims is an issue of Kashmiri identity. The Congress party has been placed in a dilemma and will now have to take a decision about continuuing in the state government as a PDP partner. The National Conference in the Valley is largely non committal although given the current circumstances is unlikely to oppose the legislation. Former Hurriyat Chairman Mirwaiz Maulvi Omar Farooq said that his organisation will take a formal decision within a day or two. He made it clear, however, that the Bill had been in effect since 1927 before the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India and should be allowed to remain in force as it was linked with any future dispensation and settlement of the Kashmir issue. He said that the people of Kashmir had seen the whittling away of their autonomy since independence, and now were looking at this Bill as one of the remaining legislations symbolising their special status and regional identity. He said that some gender specific changes could be made in the Bill at some later stage but 'leave it alone now, for any interference will be seen as yet another effort to erode the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.' The BJP has launched a frontal attack on the anti-women Bill. The Congress party has been muted but admits being in a dilemma as the PDP's refusal to withdraw the Bill will increase the pressure on it to take some kind of action in the state. Women's organisation are up in arms against the clear gender bias in the legislation, but for the Kashmiris this has become secondary to the identity issue. The Mirwaiz made this clear when he said that the Bill is an issue of Jammu and Kashmir, it is not for the BJP and the Congress to decide upon, it is for the people of the state to take a decision as and when they want to. All leaders spoken to in Srinagar expressed the apprehension that the mainstream political parties were trying to use the Bill for election purposes. Interestingly, hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani refused to take a position on the Bill. He declined to support or oppose it on the plea that these legislations and issues had no meaning until and unless there was a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Questioned about the gender bias he launched forth into his usual criticism of the role of the security forces and the violations being perpetrated against women, insisting that the Bill has no significance for the people of Kashmir. He said that the basic issue of the future of J&K had to be settled 'and how can such legislations have any meaning for us until this is done.'