Identity Crisis of West Pakistan Refugees in Jammu & Kashmir State

By  SHARIQ AHMAD BHAT, PEERZADAH MOHAMMAD OVEIS, BIJOYATA YONZON    6 February 2019

Abstract “

West Pakistan Refugees are a community in the state of Jammu and Kashmir who migrated from Sialkot District of Punjab Province in Pakistan. Their settlement issue remained a very sensitive and complicated issue to settle, as it needs to consider several vital dimensions. After being prosecuted and discriminated at the places of their origin right from 1947 after the partition of India and Pakistan, people came to save their life and honour and settled in Jammu. There are nearly five lakh people in 39 camps in and around Jammu with no political status, nor with any promise from the state and union government on where they stand in the Kashmir conflict. Among these people, major categories of refugees now in Jammu are: West Pak refugees, POJK refugees, terror victims of Jammu region, war refugees. These refugees, of which 90 per cent Hindus and 10 percent Sikhs, mostly belonging to a category called ‘disadvantaged’, migrated from west Pakistan and have been living in Jammu region since 1947. West Pakistan refugees are empty handed even after seven decades of independence in Jammu and Kashmir. They are entitled to vote only in parliament elections, and can’t exercise their franchise in state assembly polls, can’t purchase land and property, can’t apply for government jobs in state. The constitution of the J&K state that prevents non-residents or residents of rest of India to exercise their franchise in assembly and local elections of the state. Besides Indian citizenship, a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) is given to people whose ancestors have lived in the State for at least 10 years before May 14, 1954. Only those with PRC can buy property, get employment in the State, vote in the J&K Legislative Assembly and are entitled to other privileges. Article 370 prevents non state resident to settle permanently and ownership of property in state J&K. The main stream political parties sitting in opposition are causing the major hurdles in granting basic rights to West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) in J&K state.  Whenever any political party in power either National Conference, BJP, Congress or Peoples Democratic party tried to take any step to provide basic rights like domicile certificates to them, opposition parties tries their tooth and nail to stop any such move in order to gain their vote bank.

Keywords: West Pakistan Refugees, Article 370, Permanent Residence Certificate, Sialkot.

I. Introduction “

Over the years, Jammu has become a land of refugees. Different kind of people belonging to all types of castes and creeds have found a place of refuge in Jammu after being prosecuted and discriminated at the places of their origin. Right from 1947 after the partition of India and Pakistan, people came to save their life and honour and settled in Jammu. The issue of refugees/migrants in the state has always been an issue of fierce controversy, often taking a regional or a communal form. It would not be biased to call Jammu – land of refugees as today. There are nearly five lakh people in 39 camps in and around Jammu with no political status, nor with any promise from the state and union government on where they stand in the Kashmir conflict. Among these people, major categories of refugees now in Jammu are: West Pak refugees, Pakistan Occupied J&K refugees, terror victims of Jammu region, war refugees.

            As this paper focusses particularly on West Pakistan refugees, over two lakh refugees from West Pakistan have been leading a wrenched life in Jammu since 1947.They migrated to Jammu to save their life but even after 70 years of independence, these refugees have failed to obtain citizenship of the state. The situation is such that neither they can get admission in professional colleges of the state nor they can apply for government jobs. They can vote for the parliament but not for state assembly of which the reason is that the West Pakistan refugees are not original residents of the erstwhile state of J&K. These refugees, of which 90 per cent Hindus and 10 percent Sikhs, mostly belonging to a category called ‘disadvantaged’, migrated from west Pakistan and have been living in Jammu region since 1947.

            Before the start of militancy in J&K, there were provisions of recruitment of West Pak refugees in the central forces, but after 1990, they were deprived of the same because the successive state governments refused to give them domicile certificates despite living in Jammu since 1947. Government in each parliamentary election makes a promise for granting them state- subject ship, but those promises were never kept. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also made a similar promise in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The delegation of the West Pakistan refugees arranged a meeting with the Prime minister in May this year after which Prime Minister had assured a special recruitment drive for the refugees, besides a provision to ensure their regular recruitment in Central forces in future. Even though the Joint Parliamentary Committee recommended granting citizenship and compensation to the west Pakistani refugees but government at both state and centre level failed to grant citizenship as well as compensation to those refugees. Recently, the new state government led by PDP-BJP directed the authorities to issue domicile certificates to refugees but the opposition parties lashed out at the government and the issue has also been taken up by separatist leaders, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and they initiated joint strategy to counter the move. The opposition parties have opposed the government’s move saying that the move will erode Article 370 and will disturb social fabric. However, the government has denied allegations of issuing domicile certificates and said that they were only issuing identity certificates to the West Pakistan refugees.”

II. A Brief History: “

The origin of the refugee problem in J&K is a heart wrenching story. It was 1947 which gave the turbulent time for the sub-continent when Islamic republic of Pakistan was formed out of India and large scale migrations based on religious identity took place. Many Hindus and Sikhs mainly from Sialkot district in undivided Punjab migrated to India residing in J&K, categorised as West Pak refugees.

            Though these refugees were regarded as citizens of India before 1947, and in 1950, article 370 was applied to J&K with several special provisions to grant conditional autonomy as an interim measure. The constitution of J&K came into effect in 1957.According to section (6) of the J&K constitution, only those citizens of India will be deemed as permanent residents of J&K, if they were either state subjects of the princely state of J&K or had lawfully acquired immovable property in the state until 1954.

            Refugees from West Pakistan did not fall in this category and hence even to this day are not considered as permanent residents of the state. They were categorized as ‘displaced persons ‘by the government of J&K. Those who migrated from Pakistan occupied J&K live even today without refugee status, the government’s position has been that since they have migrated from Pakistan occupied J&K, which is legally a part of India, they are technically not to be categorised as ‘refugees’. Therefore, they can’t claim the benefits of refugees. There are over 2.5 lakh West Pakistan refugees living in border districts of Jammu, Samba and Kathua in the state of Jammu and Kashmir for the past 62 years, but have been denied statehood rights till date.

            These refugees (80 per cent of them are from the Scheduled Castes) migrated during the Partition from Sialkot to Jammu & Kashmir. Historically, Sialkot in West Pakistan and Gurdaspur in India’s Punjab state had very close cultural links. At the time of Partition however, this group chose to take refuge in Jammu, as it was the closest town across the line of Partition from Sialkot. Gurdaspur and Amritsar in Punjab were 92 km and 98 km from Sialkot respectively compared to Jammu, which was only 38 km away. Today, they reside in villages from Kathua to Pallanwalla on the Jammu borders. For 65 years this population of now about 250,000 to 300,000 (majority Scheduled Caste) refugees has been denied state subject benefits of J&K, as they are not considered citizens of the State.”

III. West Pakistan refugees empty handed even after 7 decades of independence in Jammu and Kashmir: “

The refugees, who were migrated from West Pakistan after partition of the subcontinent in 1947 are settled in Kathua, Samba and Jammu districts of the state, have been demanding citizenship rights,  a right to vote,  right to contest state assembly polls,  rehabilitation package, right to apply in government jobs and right to purchase property in J&K. But their demands were not materialized from the past 70 years. At present, West Pakistan Refugees comprise 19,960 families with a population of around 2,50,000 to 3,00,000. They are considered as non-state subjects of the state of J & K, even though many of them have been living in the state from three generations. They are entitled to vote only in parliament elections, and can’t exercise their franchise in state assembly polls, because Constitution of J&K provides voting rights in assembly and local body polls only to state subjects of the J&K state or its naturalized residents. they can’t apply for state government jobs as well as purchase property in J&K, because Article 370 of the Indian constitution neither allow non state subjects to apply for government jobs nor to purchase property in J&K.

IV. Major hurdles in granting citizenship and other basic rights to WPRs:

1. Constitution of J&K

The Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir is the legal and fundamental document which establishes the framework of government at state level in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The present constitution was adopted on 17 November 1956, and came into effect on January 26, 1957. As of 2012, 73 amendments have been affected to the Constitution.  

Part IV (Directive Principles of the State Policy) and Part IVA (Fundamental Duties) of the Constitution are not applicable to J&K. In addition to other fundamental rights, Articles 19(1)(f) and 31(2) of the Constitution are still applicable to J&K; hence the Fundamental Right to property is still guaranteed in this state. It is the only state which does not have to give a detailed record on the money flowing in the state and where it is used and how. In the Indian Constitutional history only one Fundamental Right has been added so far and that is Right to Education. This right too has not been extended to J&K

The constitution of the J&K state prevents nonresidents or residents of rest of India to exercise their franchise in Assembly and local elections of the state. Besides Indian citizenship, a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) is given to people whose ancestors have lived in the State for at least 10 years before May 14,1954. Only those with PRC can buy property, get employment in the State, vote in the J&K Legislative Assembly and are entitled to other privileges. Unlike other migrants West Pakistan Refugee People are declared refugee in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and are denied basic fundamental rights on the basis of migration from a place which is now in Pakistan and according to article 6 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.

2. Article 370 of the Indian constitution

Article 370 of the Indian constitution is an article that grants special autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The article is drafted in Part XXI of the Constitution: Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions. The state’s constituent assembly was empowered to recommend the articles of the Indian constitution to be applied to the state or to abrogate the Article 370 altogether. After the state constituent assembly has dissolved itself without recommending abrogation, the Article 370 was deemed to have become a permanent feature of the Indian constitution.”

Article 370 embodied six special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir

  1. It exempted the State from the complete applicability of the Constitution of India. The State was allowed to have its own Constitution.
  2. Central legislative powers over the State were restricted to the three subjects of defence, foreign affairs and communications.
  3. Other constitutional provisions of the Central Government could be extended to the State only with the concurrence of the State Government.
  4. The `concurrence’ was only provisional. It had to be ratified by the State’s Constituent Assembly.
  5. The State Government’s authority to give `concurrence’ lasted only until the State Constituent Assembly was convened. Once the State Constituent Assembly finalized the scheme of powers and dispersed, no further extension of powers was possible.
  6. The Article 370 could be abrogated or amended only upon recommendation of the State’s Constituent Assembly.

Article 370 prevents non state resident to settle permanently and ownership of property in J&K state. So WPRs can’t be domiciled in territorial area of J&K. As the WPRs had come from outside J&K territory. they cannot be issued the Permanent Resident Certificates. Even law makers are helpless to do anything for the WPRs. The State Finance, Law and Parliamentary Minister, Tariq Hamid Karra, said: “We have full sympathies for West Pakistan refugees. But the matter has to be resolved in a consensual manner as it has many dimensions.” He said the matter would be discussed at an appropriate forum and the decision would be taken on the basis of the collective will of the political parties. (Luv Puri) .

3. Main stream political parties

The main stream political parties sitting in opposition is the major hurdle in granting basic rights to WPRs in J&K state. whenever any political party in power either National Conference, BJP, Congress or Peoples Democratic party tried to take any step to provide basic rights like domicile certificates to them, opposition parties tries their tooth and nail to stop any such move in order to gain their vote bank.  For political parties it is nothing rather than an everlasting issue for vote bank. Like in 2009 the Hon’ble then prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh announced to issue PRCs to them. So far nothing has been moved in this direction. In the same way in 2014 parliamentary elections then Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi made same promised to grant state subject ship to them but they (Politicians) were hoodwinking them by making false promises to gain 250,000 votes from them during elections and they never fulfilled their promises. Now a day the situation of the West Pakistan refugees residing in Jammu & Kashmir is one where their future still seems gloomy. Left homeless by the State Government and fake and false hopes given by Central Government to take a concrete measures, they have been isolated.

4. Separatist parties

 Separatist parties have a great influence on Kashmir politics. They oppose all the moves of mainstream political parties, which are against the Muslim majority state of J&K. they accuse mainstream parties that they want to change the demography of only Muslim majority state of India by granting domicile certificates to WPRs residing in J&K. They (Separatists) also allege mainstream political parties that they (Mainstream Political Parties) want to erode the Article 370 by issuing the domicile certificates to WPRs.

V. Demands of West Pakistani Refugees

Main demands projected by the West Pakistan Refugees, by S. Kumar include:

1. Implementation of Wadhwa Committee report, no restriction on state subject for West Pakistan Refugees settled outside the State.

2. Ownership of right over evacuee land.

3. Claim over property left behind.

4. Relief at par with Kashmiri Pandits.

5. Reservation in professional colleges and scholarships for their students.

6. West Pakistan Refugees ‘ Development Board should be constituted with all financial powers and liberal aid for their upliftment and betterment.

7. Job reservation for refugee youth in State/Central Administrative services.

8. Improvement in civic amenities in the camps where West Pakistan Refugees are putting up.

9. Inclusion of refugees in the dialogue on J&K at every level.

VI. CONCLUSION

 The struggle of West Pakistan refugees for their identity and permanent settlement in J&K state is very sensitive and complicated issue. Needless to say that no political party can resolve this issue as these are considered merely a vote bank for parliamentary elections. As far as Permanent Residence Certificate issue is concerned, which will make them state subjects of J&K state that cannot be issued to them because of hard and callous approach of mainstream political parties, who always oppose any such move taken in this direction. Article 370 of Indian constitution, which prevents non-state subjects to purchase property in J&K. Separatists who are always demanding permanent resolution for disputed territory of J&K as they consider it as International Disputed Territory. As we have seen that, this is a vital, complicated and sensitive issue, which cannot be resolved overnight. It need to consider many aspects before taking any concrete step in this direction. So both state and central government should come clean on this issue and take concrete and bold steps for the rehabilitation and welfare West Pakistan refugees.” 

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  1. Shariq Ahmad Bhat is a doctoral fellow at the Department of Commerce, School of Management, Pondicherry University.
  2. Peerzadah Mohammad Oveis is a doctoral fellow at the Department of Banking Technology, School of Management, Pondicherry University.
  3. Bijoyata Yonzon is an Assistant Professor, JDMC, University of Delhi.

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