Facts lost in Modi’s high voltage campaign

Omar Abdullah was quick to repudiate Narendra Modi’s claim that Kashmiri women who married outsiders were dispossessed of the rights available to a ’state subject’ under the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.

He used Twitter to question his Gujarat counterpart’s claim. But the story of women’s rights in J&K is too complex to be told within a restrictive 140-character format.

If only he had researched better before taking the podium in Jammu, Modi would’ve known, the haze over women’s right (to work, education, inheritance and even adoption) was cleared way back in 2002 by a full bench of the High Court in a case that lasted a quarter century. “The bench held in a majority verdict that a woman’s marriage to an outsider did not make her ineligible to be a subject of the state,” said Justice BA Khan, former chief justice of the J&K High Court.

The facts as they stand showed Modi – who made the averment while seeking a debate on Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 – as being ignoramus of the ground reality. He had shown the arrangement as being discriminatory, giving Omar’s example and that of his sister Sara: “If he marries outside Kashmir, his rights as a citizen remain but not those of his sister (who married the Congress’s Sachin Pilot).”

Certain news reports cited a 2005 J&K law to falsify Modi’s argument. But the Permanent Resident Disqualification Bill, 2004 was meant to overturn the judgement amid protests in the valley that post-martial rights to women could change the State’s demography.

The efforts to negate the Court ruling came a cropper. The Bill ran into trouble in the legislative council on being passed by the bicameral assembly’s Lower House.

The State government’s subsequent special leave petition in the Supreme Court was also withdrawn. Reason: consensus had eluded the coalition regime on the issue that smacked of gender discrimination. But the Kashmir Bar Association’s review petition is pending before the High Court.

So the law that governs the issue is the one laid down by the Court. It stemmed from a bunch of petitions in a case initiated a quarter century ago – in 1978.

Amarjeet Kaur of Kupwara moved the court on being denied her share in ancestral property by her brother. He claimed his two sisters, including the petitioner, lost their right to hold property in Kashmir on account of their marriage to non-residents in Punjab.

Other similarly discriminated women joined the battle when a trial decreed that Amarjeet’s rights as “permanent resident” remained unaffected by her marriage to an outsider. One among them was the granddaughter of a former J&K CM who married into the family of a former Punjab Governor. She petitioned on being barred from pursuing post-graduation in medicine for having chosen to marry an outsider.

Fine details and nuances are often lost in poll-time rhetoric. But a PM hopeful can’t skate over facts to approach an issue as explosive as Article 370.

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