August 2004 News

Kashmir Women's Bill Voted Out

27 August 2004

Srinagar: Parliament in Indian-administered Kashmir has rejected a bill withdrawing the permanent resident status of women who marry a non- permanent resident. The bill failed because of opposition from the Congress party. The bill was supported by the main Kashmir parties but opposed by the main national parties. Only permanent residents of the state enjoy benefits such as voting rights, access to government jobs and the right to buy property. The Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill, was passed by the lower house of the state assembly in March, but became bogged down in the upper house. Flood- gates opened Many ordinary Kashmiris fear that if local women can retain their permanent resident status after marrying outsiders, many non-Kashmiris will come to buy land in the state. The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says that the permanent resident issue is one of immense concern to ordinary people in Kashmir, and its rejection puts a question mark on the governing coalition. The bill has split Kashmiri society The assembly initially passed the bill unanimously during the budget session in March. But our correspondent says that afterwards, the Congress Party made an about-turn and declared that it would oppose the bill in the upper house of the legislature. Sense of insecurity The bill lapsed in the upper house because there was no vote on it within the three months needed for proposed legislation to become law. It was then sent back to the lower house where it was voted out on Friday. Congress took the stand that the bill was discriminatory against women. Observers say the opposition of national parties to the bill - including the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party - added to the sense of insecurity of ordinary Kashmiris who lay great importance on preserving their identity. Jammu and Kashmir has its own constitution and enjoys a special status in India. Under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the state has the right to enact its own laws - a right that has often been challenged by right-wing Indian parties including the BJP. This system was introduced by the erstwhile Dogra rulers of Kashmir in 1927 who feared that the British colonial rulers of India would encourage outsiders to buy property in the state and undermine the authority of the kingdom.


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