ROLE OF NATIONAL CONFERENCE IN WOMEN EMPOWERMENT IN JAMMU AND KASHMIR
Asia Pacific Journal of Research
Manifesto includes a special charter for empowerment of Women sub-titled as Women"s Charter. This programmed is one of the earliest and important political documents in the whole subcontinent of India which upheld equal rights of Women. In fact, the Directive Principles of the State Policy with regard to the rights of Women in the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir are based on Naya Kashmir"s Women Charter. The Directive Principles of State policy state that: "The State shall endeavour to secure
... of all Women: a) The right to equal pay for equal work; b) The right to maternity benefits as well as adequate medical care in all employment; c) The right to reasonable maintenance extending to the cases of married Women who have been divorced or abandoned; d) The right to full equality in all social, educational, political and legal matters; e) Social protection against discourtesy, deformation, hooliganism and other forms of misconduct. Political Participation The Kashmiri people were enfranchised in 1934 for the first time and it was done on very limited scale. As far as Women were concerned, the right to vote was limited to those who have passed the middle standard or an equivalent examination. The excuse for its limited scale as given by the Franchise Commission was, "the inclusion of Women voters would increase the administrative difficulties of the election". But with the establishment of the popular government headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the State elections to the Constituent Assembly in 1951 were based on universal franchise. The part X of the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir dealt with the election in the State. It proposed the right of Women to elect and to be elected in all institutions on the basis of equality with men and also the grant of equal rights to Women in all the fields of the national life including that of services in the Sate. In addition, the provision to section 47 provides that if the Governor is of the opinion that women are not adequately represented in the Assembly, he may nominate not more than two women to be members thereof. This was a unique feature of the Jammu and Kashmir constitution to ensure participation of Women in decision-making processes. In an interview a senior leader of National Conference, Mr. Abdul Rahim Rather said, that National Conference will make 50% reservation for Women in politics compulsory to let more and more Women come out of their homes and take active participation in the state affairs and national building. Women Wing It was in 1950"s when National Conference again came to the rescue and upliftment of the Women folk and establishment the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference Women Wing. Since then the Women"s wing has been working tirelessly for bringing Women at par with men in the male-dominated society. An effort was being made to involve Women in the political process; the main purpose of the wing was to compare the level of awareness of political and educational rights among rural and urban Women and to study the awareness of political rights as a functioning part of socio-economic status and ethnicity. Moreover, Women activists and workers of National Conference were entitled to hold public office and exercise all public functions without any discrimination at gross-root level. Women activists of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference made more efforts to interact directly with the vast majority of Women in the villages and awaken their political consciousness and encourage them to exercise their franchise. The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference Women"s Wing fought for Women"s equality of franchise with men ardently for a long time by a dedicated minority against heavy resistance by the majority. Conventions on the political and educational rights of Women were organized from time to time by the Women activists aimed at granting the Women"s rights. Women face multiple hurdles and found it difficult to participate in the political process that has hitherto been male dominated. The major reason for this gender specificity is that Women are less mobile than men. They have domestic responsibility which puts limits on time they can spend in such process but consistent efforts have been made by Women activists of National Conference over a period of time to engender the political process, institutions and issues that are critical to this process. The political Women"s wing has created a favorable environment for Women of Jammu and Kashmir by which they are entitled to vote in all elections Panchayat, Municipality, Assembly and Parliament Elections on equal terms with men without any discrimination and this resulted in hundreds of women gaining entry in National Conference at rural as well as urban levels. This transformation has widely recognized the Women in Jammu and Kashmir and framed a structure of women"s Wing at provincial, District, Block, and Halqa levels. "s took a revolutionary step which changed the whole society, in general and Women, in particular. This revolutionary step was Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, the magna charter of peasants, passed on October 17, 1950. This aAct transferred all land to the peasants and abolished the practice of landlords in the state. The implementation of this act and subsequent grant of property right changed the socio-economic scenario of the state to a great extent. The landless workers who had lived at the mercy of landlords began work in the fields as owners under this "Land to Tiller" scheme. The peasants became the real owners of the land and consequently Women began to live a dignified life. Women were the most vulnerable group and they were exploited both physically and psychologically at the hands of the feudal landlords. The moment the act was passed and put to practice, the women achieved a freedom from the shackles of landlords forever. "This act empowered people economically and Women began to live a decent life and started to take balanced diet. They started to join educational institutions and began to think about their social upliftment". Education The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference has done a tremendous job in spreading education in the state, in general and among Women, in particular. The orthodox society didn"t allow girls to receive education. To end this menace, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah started a system of compulsory education known as "Jabria Taileem" (forced education) at widow palace (presently Women"s College, Srinagar). It was the National Conference who established the first women"s colleges both in Srinagar and Anantnag and spread a wide net of schools at primary, secondary and senior secondary levels in every corner of the state to disseminate knowledge and lead people from darkness to light. The present status of education could be achieved only after the tireless efforts of the National Conference and more importantly through the personal concern of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. One of the most revolutionary steps taken by the National Conference to empower Women in the knowledge sector was 50 per cent reservation for Women in Professional Courses under SRO 26 (1988) of Government of Jammu and Kashmir. The fifty percent reservation in Medical and Engineering Courses has immensely benefited Women in the State. The obvious indication of this reservation and other related schemes is that we see a good number of Women doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers etc. in the service of mankind in the State. Legislations Laws are always made to address the lacunas of the social set up. Being an orthodox society, Women were denied their rights at all levels. Women were highly backward and under -developed. It gave rise to the need to frame laws for their developmentmental and otherwise. The laws and schemes made particularly for women have great influenced their lives. It is because of these law "we see a good number of educated Women in our society living a dignified life and occupying even key positions in administration, education, health, judiciary and construction. The important laws in this direction are as below. The Dowry Restraint Act: Act No. Xxxvi, September 10, 1960. The Jammu and Kashmir dowry restraint act has been enacted by the State Legislature in the year 1960 as the corresponding central law is not applicable to the state. The act provides for restriction on taking or giving dowry in connection with marriages. The menace of dowry is well known in all states of the country and dowry deaths are common now-a-days. The said law on the subject provides for punishment, imprisonment for one year and fine of rupees 5000 also. The Panchayat Raj Act: Act No XI Of 1989. The Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Raj act had been enacted in the year 1989 and was amended from time to time. In this Act 33.33 per cent reservation has been provided for Women at the grass root levels-Panchayats and Municipalities, so as to ensure their participation in decision making at the lowest level. By providing such reservation, the male domination in decision-making process has been avoided. The aim was to bring Women at par with men in all spheres of life and their reservation in the local bodies has ensured speedy justice to Women who are victims of domestic violence and deprived of their fundamental rights. Women were benefited by this Act in 2005 when the elections were held for Srinagar and Jammu Municipal Corporation after a gap of twenty-eight years and for the first time in the light of this act. Elections for Local-Self Government institutions could not be conducted in fifteen years after the act was passed for the State was badly hit by the turmoil. At present, there are 68 and 71 Elected Representatives in Srinagar and Jammu Municipal Corporation respectively. There are 45 Women members in both the corporations. However, the elections for Panchayats could not be held for unknown reasons. The National Conference which was in opposition "pressed hard to get the elections for panchayats done but the PDP -Congress coalition thought otherwise. The Legal Aid Service Authorities Act: Act No XXXIII Of 1997 The Jammu and Kashmir legal aid service act was enacted to provide free and competent legal services to the weaker section in general and Women in particular. The objective of this legislation was to restrain begging and trafficking of human beings/ Women. It also envisaged grant of legal aid to persons who are victims of mass disaster, ethnic violence, caste, flood, earthquake etc. In addition Lok-Adalts have been established to provide opportunities for securing justice on the basis of sex, religion, or any other disabilities and to ensure that the operation of legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunities.