We're All Kashmiris And Kashmiri Politicians Are Indians First
11 March 2004
Kolkata: Kashmir's special status is a political holy cow - deemed unquestionable by opinion and sanctified by Article 370. The controversy over the women's resident status in Kashmir should, therefore, be welcomed in as much as it allows all parties to debate issues larger than the ugly bill the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed government is keen to make into law. It is indefensible. The Permanent Status (Disqualification) Bill passed in the state's Lower House - the Upper House takes it up on 11 March - takes away political, property and employment rights from Kashmiri women who marry non-permanent residents. Shorn of legalese, it says that Kashmir's women must marry Kashmiri men from Kashmir or else be made second-class citizens in their own state. This is grotesquely anti-women. But the larger issue is Article 370 that guarantees Kashmir's right to confer upon itself certain privileges. The state has the right to distinguish between permanent and non-permanent residents. A recent J&K High Court verdict states that existing provisions do not circumscribe rights of women who marry 'outsiders'. If Kashmir's politicians had let that judgment be a starting point of a reform of the Valley's artificial political constructs, it would have been wonderful. At least, they could have done nothing. Instead, the PDP government sought to codify discrimination by claiming the court verdict points to a loophole in Article 370 and the National Conference is four square behind the move. Ironically, their claim that allowing Kashmiri women to retain rights after marrying an 'outsider' cannot coexist with Article 370 is probably right. Which is why the debate should be about Article 370. Trendy discourse on cultural politics and ethnic sub-nationalism always ignores the most liberal of precepts - let each decide on what he wants to be and let no one penalise him for that decision as long as it does no harm to others. Those in Kashmir who forever want a special status must understand that undiluted Kashmiriyat can be as divisive, exclusivist and dangerous a notion as aggressive Hindutva or fanatical Islamisation. Kashmir was and is an out-of-ordinary case. But it must become an ordinary part of India at some time. Kashmiri politicians who think otherwise need to be disabused. Article 370 must come up for a review some time. To ask whether non- Kashmiris can settle down or marry or buy property or vote in the Valley is the wrong question. We must ask can Indians do in Kashmir what they do everywhere else in the country? The answer is yes.