Revocation of Article 370 Women breathe freedom after 70 long years

Priya Sethi

The people in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh had been divested of their constitutional rights and development by the ruling elites of Kashmir by using Articles 370 and 35A. Since Congress, for its vote-bank politics, created and procrastinated on Kashmir imbroglio, the three regions of the erstwhile State remained oblivious of the State’s full potential of growth and economic development.
Despite huge fund flows from Delhi in these past decades, J&K remained associated only with political unrest, violence, controversies and terrorism
The leadership in Kashmir from Abdullahs, Muftis, Azaad and including the secessionists, for their ulterior motives kept pedaling white lies and in manufacturing false narratives. They never worked for resolution and peace, and pushed the youth into violence and terrorism. They created an eco-system with the help of Islamist groups which was blatantly communal and sectarian so much so that Articles 370 and 35A got associated with a false sense of Kashmiri Muslim identity.
The revocation of Articles 370 and 35A have revolutionized this morbid state of affairs. Articles 370 and 35A were prejudicial to women’s rights and empowerment and discriminated on gender equality. These articles established classes of citizens as A,B and C grade citizens; thereby rejecting equality and dispensation of justice.
The J&K State’s Revenue Department before 2002, used to issue to the women and girls of the State a conditional Permanent Resident Certificate (known also as Permanent Hereditary State-subject Certificate) valid only till marriage. And in case the girl would get married to a non State-subject, she would lose all her rights in the State. And her children or husband could not inherit her properties in the State. It was only after the full-bench of J&K High Court in a case (Dr. Sushila Sahni vs. State of J&K) in 2002 challenging the appointment of a doctor on the ground that she had married someone from outside the State, pronounced in a judgment that such a law was illegal and needed review, that the women in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh were not declared persona non-grata in J&K State, and were allowed Rights similar to the men-folk.
Strange enough that if a man from J&K would marry an outsider or even a foreigner, not only would his Rights remain intact, but the spouse and the progeny would also enjoy all such rights and privileges by way of the provisions of Articles 370 and 35A. Whereas, the woman, her spouse and progeny would not enjoy rights, privileges or would inherit any properties in the State.
Article 35A was a guarantee of privileges and discrimination between the PRC (Permanent Resident Certificate) holders and all those who lived and worked in J&K but didn’t have the PRC, in terms of transfer, owning and disposal of properties, admissions to institutions of higher learning, scholarships, employment, contesting elections to Panchayats, Local Bodies and State Legislature and to the Right to franchise, besides availing any loans from the banks. Those belonging to the Valmiki Samaj, the 1947 refugees from Pakistan, a community of Gorkhas etc., who had been living in the State of J&K for more than 7 decades and their progeny, were all deprived of these Fundamental Rights. The minorities in J&K like the Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Bodhs were deprived of any Minority Rights.
Strangely, the Muslim women in J&K would be treated under a Sharia Legislation and from marriage to divorce to owning of any properties and conjugal dispute they were deprived of receiving justice by the provisions of either the Indian Law or by the jurisdiction of the Ranbir Civil and penal laws. The neutering of Article 370 has ensured justice to these women as well like all other women in India.
Pertinent to mention that Article 370 remained a major roadblock to the integration of the J&K State with the Union of India.
In order to upturn the2002 landmark judgment of the J&K High Court in the case of Dr. Sushila Sahni vs State of J&K, the PDP-Congress coalition government brought about a J&K Permanent Resident Disqualification Act (2004) in the State legislature in order to deprive the women marrying to non-PRC holders of all their legal rights. This Act was not only gender discriminatory, but was blatantly communal and influenced by political considerations, as it claimed that the Act would not affect those state-subjects who were governed by their personal laws.
The founder President of Bhartiya Jan Sangh, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookherji had delineated his doubts about Article 370 very articulately during his Parliamentary addresses and debates, and warned the Indian State of its far-reaching and adverse constitutional implications upon national integration. The fact is that the very seed of neutering 370 was sown, the day Dr. Mookherji was arrested at Lakhanpur in 1953, incarcerated and mysteriously killed in a Srinagar Jail. This seed took 70 years to fructify through a consistent struggle of the nationalist forces for 70 long years.
On August 5, 2019, in an epoch making legislation, the Narendra Modi government during the very first Parliamentary session of its second term, neutered Article 370 and abrogated Article 35A by absolute majority in both houses of Indian Parliament. It was a historical geo-political decision and the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir was reorganized into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir. It was an occasion of great joy for the people of all the three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and for the minorities, as they could now experience and rejoice in equality for all and their rights as equal citizens of the great Indian democracy. As such doing away with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was an important step for peace and prosperity. The Articles 370 and 35A were big obstacles for development and deprived the people in J&K of their basic fundamental rights. Thankfully, now it’s one nation, one law and one constitution; and the erstwhile J&K State stands fully integrated with the Union.
This bold decision of the Narendra Modi Government has restored confidence of all women in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and protected them against all discrimination and injustice meted out to them for 70 long years in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. Now, as equal citizens of India, they can own, buy and sell properties; and transfer the same to their progeny. They can now continue to serve and work without fear of losing employment in case they choose to marry an outsider. The neutering of Art. 370 and 35A has served as an elixir to millions of women in erstwhile J&K who had been deprived of their rights, generation after generation. These women are thankful and all praise to Narendra Modi and Sh. Amit Shah for abrogation of these blatantly discriminatory and controversial provisions, and for ensuring their equality and providing them justice.
(The author is former minister JK)
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