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J&K Bill has wider ramifications for women

By Luv Puri

JAMMU, MARCH 5. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly today unanimously passed a Bill seeking to withdraw the Permanent Resident Status (PRS) of women belonging to the State who marry non-permanent residents.

Introducing the Bill, the Finance, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Muzaffar Hussian Baig, said: "With the consensus of the whole House, we have decided to make the legislation and define the legal status of women who marry outside the State." However, the legal position of female descendants of permanent residents in the matter of inheritance will continue to be in accordance with the personal law applicable to them.

The legislation has wide-ranging ramification for the women of the State. Besides Indian citizenship, PRS is given to those whose ancestors lived in the State for at least 10 years before May 14, 1954. Only those with PRS can buy property in the State, get employment and are entitled to other privileges.

A law defining the rights of the State subject was first enacted in 1927 by the then ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. Later, the Government passed an executive order which debarred women who marry outsiders from retaining their PRS status. The order was greeted by protests from women who termed it as a violation of their fundamental right to equality.

A petition challenging the order was filed by the grand-daughter of the former Prime Minister (the Chief Minister was so called then), G.M. Bakshi. She had lost her PRS on marrying the son of the Punjab Governor, Surender Nath. Similar petitions were filed by other women.

On October 7, 2002, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court struck down the order and ruled that women would have the same rights as men even if they married outside the State. A Full Bench, comprising Justice V.K. Jhanji, Justice T.S. Doabia and Justice Muzaffar Jan, questioned the legality of the entry, "Valid before marriage," on the permanent residents' certificate, describing it as violative of their fundamental rights under the Constitution and discriminatory on the basis of sex.

It was challenged by the State Government in the Supreme Court. But within a year, it decided to withdraw the Special Leave petition. The Opposition charged the Government with trying to erode the Special Status of the State guaranteed under Article 370 of the Constitution.

Mr. Baig said today that the Government had withdrawn the petition as it had apprehensions that it would be struck down by the Supreme Court.

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