West Pakistani refugees in J K
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on | Jun 17,2015
INDIA’S FORGOTTEN NATIONALS
Monday, 22 July 2013
Sixty five years on, refugees from West Pakistan who settled in Jammu, continue to feel helpless and abandoned. They deserve special attention, for their life is one of toil and penury and not of political and economic aspiration
The creation of Pakistan out of India in August 1947 caused displacement of population on an unprecedented scale. Thousands of Muslims migrated to Pakistan and millions of non-Muslims, including Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, migrated from Pakistan to India to escape liquidation and save their dignity, religion and culture.
Those who migrated to India, barring Jammu & Kashmir, became full-fledged Indians and some even rose to such high positions as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, those who migrated to Jammu in 1947, continue to lead a wretched life even after 65 years of their stay in the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Numbering approximately 1.5 lakh, an overwhelming majority of them is Dalit. They are Indian ‘nationals’ but not the ‘citizens’ of the State. They have neither the right to immovable property, to a Government job, to vote in the Assembly and local-bodies' elections, to bank loan nor even the right to higher technical and professional education. Of course, they have been participating in the Lok Sabha election since 1967, when the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of India extended to Jammu & Kashmir.
Indeed, since 1947 and till date, these refugees have held numerous demonstrations in Jammu and Delhi, organised long marches, courted arrest and exhausted all constitutional methods of agitation to obtain ‘citizenship rights’. Faced with official apathy, they even approached the Supreme Court in 1982, but failed to obtain justice because Jammu & Kashmir enjoyed special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Disposing of the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 7698 of 1982 on February 20, 1987, the Supreme Court said it was “unable to give any relief to the petitioner”.
The operative part of the judgement reads: “In view of the peculiar constitutional position obtaining in the State of Jammu & Kashmir, we do not see what possible relief we can give to the petitioner and those situated like him. All that we can say is that the position of the petitioner and those like him is anomalous and it is up to the legislature of the State of Jammu & Kashmir to take action to amend legislations, such as the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act, 1957, the Land Alienation Act, the Village Panchayat Act, etc so as to make persons like the petitioner who have migrated from West Pakistan in 1947 and who have settled down in the State of Jammu & Kashmir since then, eligible to be included in the electoral roll, to acquire land, to be elected to the panchayats, etc etc.
“This can be done by suitably amending the legislations without having to amend the Jammu & Kashmir Constitution. In regard to providing employment opportunities under the State Government, it can be done by the Government by amending the Jammu & Kashmir Civil Services, Classification and Control and Appeal Rules. In regard to admission to higher technical educational institutions, the Government may make these persons eligible by issuing appropriate executive directions without even having to introduce any legislation.
“The petitioners have a justifiable grievance. Surely they are entitled to expect to be protected by the State of Jammu & Kashmir. In the peculiar context of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, the Union of India also owes an obligation to make some provisions for the advancement of the cultural, economic and educational rights of these persons. We do hope that the claims of the persons like the petitioner and others to exercise greater rights of citizenship will receive due consideration from the Union of India and the State of Jammu & Kashmir. We are, however, unable to give any relief to the petitioner”.
Though the Supreme Court did not give any relief to the petitioner, it did suggest the ways and means of redressing the grievances of the refugees.
But neither the State nor the Union Government thought it desirable to act on the suggestions as contained in the judgement for obvious reasons, the most important being the oft-repeated argument of Kashmiri leadership that granting citizenship rights to the refugees would mean a change in the State’s demographic profile, erosion of its autonomous status and alienation of Kashmiri Muslims from India. Expectedly, the Union Government sided with the Kashmiri leadership overlooking the ‘human angle’. That attitude persists even today.
It may appear unbelievable, but it is a fact that the Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah-led Government in the State granted citizenship rights to numerous Uyghur Muslim families in 1952 and, settled them in the Eidgah area of Srinagar with full citizenship rights. The Uyghur Muslims migrated from Xinjiang province of China to escape Communist Beijing’s wrath.
The Government of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, which replaced the Sheikh Abdullah Government in August 1953, accorded similar treatment to the Tibetan Muslims who migrated to Kashmir in 1959 in the wake of the Chinese annexation of Tibet. They were also settled in the same locality with full citizenship rights. Tibet's leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, along with thousands of Tibetans, also migrated to India in 1959.
That the Kashmiri leadership would settle in Srinagar the Uyghur and Tibetan Muslims with full citizenship rights and make unjust, invidious and humiliating distinctions between them and the non-Muslim refugees from West Pakistan, establishes that its whole approach was communally-motivated.
The latest example is the ‘return and rehabilitation’ policy of the Union and State Government to induce Pakistan-based militants of Kashmir origin to return to the Valley, along with their families. Under this policy, nearly 271 Kashmiri militants — 117 with their Pakistani wives and children — returned to Kashmir via Nepal during the past 10 months and the process is on. The indulgent National Conference-Congress coalition Government recently ordered the State Education Department to “relax norms” to ensure admission of Kashmiri militants’ children in Government schools.
The State Government has conveniently ignored Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 2009 announcement to “keep one per cent special quota, 10 per cent relaxation on cut-off list and 30 days extra time after the closure of admission dates in technical educational institutes of Jammu and Kashmir for wards” of West Pakistan refugees.
Bemoaning the State Government’s negative attitude, president of the West Pakistan Refugees’ Action Committee, Labha Ram Gandhi, said that the State Government had been consistently refusing to “entertain our children”. “See our hard luck. We are Indians but not residents of Jammu & Kashmir. The Chief Minister has all the concern for the Kashmiri militants who are returning with their Pakistani wives and children, but he has not honoured even the Prime Minister’s announcement. Sixty five years on, we still remain refugees in this State. We have not been given permanent residents’ certificates and our children continue to suffer because of the apathetic attitude of the Government. We rue the day we migrated to this State, ” he lamented.
This is not fair. The refugees from West Pakistan deserve special attention and treatment. For their life is just one of toil and penury and not of political and economic aspirations.
What kind of democracy and secularism are we practising in which a section of our society has been deprived of all its natural rights just to pander to communal forces in the Valley?