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Atal, Sonia pad up for women

Jammu, March 8: Political compulsions have forced Sonia Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee to bat on the same side on women’s day, both asking Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to reconsider a bill that rescinds the resident status of women marrying outside Jammu and Kashmir.

In a letter faxed to alliance partner Mufti past Sunday midnight, Sonia said: “I request you to… refer the bill to a select committee…. There is question that whatever your compulsions, the bill curtails the rights of a woman.”

The Prime Minister appropriately followed up on International Women’s Day, urging Mufti to review the bill as it had sparked an uproar. At a function in his house to mark the occasion, he said he had asked the chief minister to ask his legislators to find a way out, not “fan the issue further”.

The controversial Jammu and Kashmir Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill —which denies women several rights — was passed in the Assembly on Friday by Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party-led government. The Congress is one of its alliance partners.

Keen to avert a poll backlash from women, the Congress has decided to move a motion on March 11 to refer the bill to a select committee in the legislative council. But a deadlock seems to have set in with law minister Muzaffar Hussein Beg saying: “That might be the thinking of the Congress, not that of the government.”

However, amid mounting pressure, the PDP late tonight appeared open to amending the bill. “The PDP is willing to amend the bill to remove the gender anomalies…. The bill is gender-specific and this might be its shortcoming…” party chief Mehbooba Mufti said.

The bill has caused more resentment among Jammu-centric parties like the BJP as several displaced migrants are forced to choose grooms from outside the state.

The only party in favour of the bill appears to be the National Conference, which is in majority in the legislative council. Chairman Omar Abdullah — married outside the state but unaffected as the bill applies only to women — has asked members to vote it in if it comes up for discussion.

The bill was first introduced as far back as April 1927 by Maharaja Hari Singh. It then said natives of Jammu and Kashmir alone would have the right to buy property.

The law was enacted to prevent rich outsiders from flooding the state and to fend off the British threat to buy property and undermine the monarchy.

The clause about women’s marriage was added in 1975. The new bill was moved after a court overturned the clause in 2002.

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