Jammu Tawi, December 25
While lakhs of people who left West Pakistan and settled across India enjoy all the citizenship rights, their compatriots who chose Jammu and Kashmir as their home have little rights seven decades on.
This difference between the rights of the West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) — those who migrated during partition and settled in J&K — and their fellow migrants who settled elsewhere is an “irony”, WPRs’ representative say need to be fixed.
“Isn’t it an irony that two refugees from West Pakistan Dr Manmohan Singh and IK Gujral became the Prime Minister of the country, but here in Jammu and Kashmir we cannot even apply for the job of a clerk in the state government,” Labha Ram Gandhi, president of Association of West Pakistan Refugees said.
He said fearing religious persecution at the time of partition, 5,764 Hindu and Sikh families from various parts of Pakistan had migrated to Jammu and settled along the border.
The number of such families has grown to 19,960 and they have been living a life of “stateless people”, he said.
“After we were uprooted from Pakistan in 1947, we came and settled in Jammu. After staying here for two months and nine days we decided to move to Punjab, but Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah stopped us from going anywhere and promised he would grant us citizenship rights here,” Gandhi said.
But the families– with cumulatively little over 1 lakh members– settled in the 10 districts of Jammu region, have not been given the rights over the land where they have constructed their houses.
“Even after living in the house for over 69 years, we cannot call them our own as we don’t have the ownership of the land. This is irony that we are citizens of India, but we don’t have citizenship of the state where we have been living for over six decades,” Prem Singh, another WPR said.
The issue of West Pakistan Refuges has hit the headline, after the state government decided to issue them “identity certificates” so that they can apply for the central government jobs.
The separatist camp is not happy with the decision.
“These are manoeuvres to change the demography of Jammu and Kashmir,” a joint statement issued by hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani, moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Mohammad Yasin Malik read.
“Issuing domicile certificates to West Pakistan refugees, (Supreme) Court verdict challenging the sovereignty of Jammu and Kashmir, and allowing outside banks to confiscate and hold properties in the state are the issues of life and death for our existence as Muslims and Kashmiris,” they said.
The separatists said they were not against rehabilitation of the refugees and support their demands on humanitarian grounds and urge the government to provide them all the rights they are eligible to.
The separatists said India is a huge country with more than 30 states/(UTs) and WPRs can be settled in any of the states. But settling them in J&K will “jeopardise and erode its historical and political contours, which is not acceptable to us at any cost”, they added.
The opposition National Conference has also objected the “settling of WPRs” in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Granting them (WPR) State Subject rights is tantamount to diluting the law and leaving it meaningless. That is something we (NC) will not allow at any cost and neither PDP nor BJP should have any doubts about that,” NC State Spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu said.
Facing objection from the separatists and the opposition, the government said it was not issuing domicile certificate to the settlers, but was issuing only identity cards to help them find jobs in central forces.
“It seems an orchestrated and misleading campaign has been launched to create an impression that the government is changing the status of the WPRs and they are being given domicile certificates,” Minister for Education and State Government Spokesman, Naeem Akhtar said.
He said the government was issuing only identity certificates to the WPR and it won’t change their status as “non-state subjects of Jammu and Kashmir”.
Issuance of Identity Certificates does in no way change the status of the West Pakistan Refugees as they continue to be the non-state subjects,” he said.
Senior BJP leader and the Minister of state in the PMO Jitendra Singh said while separatists are doing “politics of convenience and not conviction” the mainstream parties too toe their line when out of power.
Terming the opposition to the issuance of identity cards to WPRs a “needless controversy”, he said it is “inhumane” to resist any help to refugees who have been languishing without any livelihood for past 70 years.
He said the refugees who chose J-K as their home cannot be held to ransom, “while some of their counterparts in rest of the country have become Prime Ministers like Inder Kumar Gujral and Dr Manmohan Singh”.