At his first ever and massively attended rally in Jammu and Kashmir, which saw the participation of a significant number of Muslims, the BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi asserted that Article 370 that grants special status to the state did not protect the rights of women. Citing an example, he said that unlike men, if women from J&K marry outside the state, they lose their rights as permanent residents of the state.
“If Omar [Abdullah] married outside Kashmir, his rights of being a citizen remain whereas his sister Sara [married to Congress leader Sachin Pilot] loses this right,” asked Modi. “Is this not discrimination against the women in the state?”
While he received due applause for his comment at the rally, the Gujarat chief minister was far from stating facts or asking the right questions. Women in J&K, who marry outside the state, do remain permanent residents of the state, even though there have been determined political efforts to deny them this right.
J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was prompt to rebut Modi. “He [Modi] very conveniently used me and my sister as examples to illustrate a point that has no bearing on truth. Either he lies or is ill informed,” Omar tweeted after Modi’s rally. “I challenge him or any of his minions to reproduce verbatim the section of Art 370 that determines the J&K state-subject law.”
Article 370 in the Constitution grants autonomous status to J&K. It specifies that except in matters of defence, foreign affairs, finance and communication, the Centre needs the state government’s approval in applying all other laws that are otherwise applicable in the rest of the country.
J&K’s state-subject law forbids outsiders to settle and buy property in the state. But it is silent on the citizenship status of women who marry outsiders.
The J&K High Court, though while passing an order in the Prakash vs Sahani case in 1965, had ruled that women take on the domicile and nationality of their husband, thus depriving women of their rights. In 2002, the HC overturned its previous order in a different case, observing that determining nationality by marriage is an outdated practice.
The state government, then led by the PDP-Congress coalition, appealed against the order in the Supreme Court, claiming that it undermined the state’s special status under Article 370. It later withdrew the petition fearing that the SC might endorse the HC order and instead sought to settle the issue in the state legislature.
A Bill titled J&K Women’s Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill was moved in the J&K legislature in March 2004. A part of the Bill read: “Notwithstanding anything contrary contained in any law… a female permanent resident on her marriage with a person who is not a permanent resident shall with effect from the date of such marriage cease to be permanent resident.”
The Bill was passed in the Lower House with a voice vote and was headed to become a law with its passage in the Upper House when it attracted controversy.
While both the Congress and the BJP opposed the Bill at the national level, women’s groups too plunged into the fray. Consequently, a Bill that was endorsed by the two major parties in the state, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference, didn’t go through the Upper House. The Legislative Council Chairman Abdur Rashid Dar adjourned the session sine die without permitting vote.
Since then, there has been another attempt to pass the Bill — in 2010 — but in vain. Regardless, the J&K HC’s 2004 order that allows women from J&K to retain their permanent resident status, even after they marry non-state subjects stands. Hence Sara Abdullah is as much a permanent resident of J&K as she is an Indian citizen. It’s time Modi hired few fact-checkers in his team.