Big Story 10

Kashmiri woman challenges state's 'discriminatory' property law

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A woman from India’s Jammu and Kashmir state is challenging a contentious law that denies women the right to own property in the state if she is married to someone from outside the state, saying it is discriminatory and violates her citizenship rights.

The petition by Charu WaliKhanna, a Kashmiri Hindu belonging to the Pandit community, questions the validity of an article of the constitution that grants permanent residents in Kashmir special rights and privileges.

Those who are not permanent residents do not have the right to buy property in Kashmir, work for the state government or vote in local elections.

Kashmiri women who are permanent residents lose the right to own property in the state if they marry residents of other states; their children also lose their claim over the property.

But a Kashmiri man who is a permanent resident can own property and bequeath his property to his children even if he is married to a woman who is not a permanent resident.

“The law is creating a situation of discrimination and deprivation for Kashmiri women in their own state,” WaliKhanna said.

“It questions my identity as a Kashmiri and denies me my right as an Indian citizen and an Indian woman,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Supreme Court last week asked the central government to respond to the petition on Aug. 14.

WaliKhanna, whose family fled the state some decades ago, has visited several times for holidays, she said. She looked into buying a home there a couple of years back.

But officials said she could not because she is not a permanent resident, and that even if she were able to prove her Kashmiri ancestry, her marriage to a non-Kashmiri makes her ineligible.

A lawyer herself, WaliKhanna said she decided to file the petition because the article, passed by a presidential order in 1954, runs counter to India’s inheritance laws giving women equal rights, and the constitutional right to equality.

She is joined in her petition by a Kashmiri woman who is a permanent resident and was married to a non-resident. Her husband has died, but she is still denied the right to own property.

Only a few thousand Kashmiri Hindus, mostly Pandits, still live in Muslim-majority Kashmir. Thousands of families fled the decades-long violence, leaving behind their homes and lands.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Friday defended the laws of the state, saying any change would not be acceptable.

“As a lawyer and as a woman, I find it abhorrent that this article still stands,” WaliKhanna said.

“And that the state is using it to deny me the right to buy a home in the land of my ancestors.”