Published On: Tue, Jan 31st, 2017

Refugees, Again

The issue of granting domicile certificates to the refugees of West Pakistan is politically very sensitive and should not be addressed in a rush without taking the public opinion in the state on board, Ahmad Riyaz writes.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq protesting against the West Pak Refugees. Pic credit: Basit Zargar

It might seem strange, even bizarre, but it’s true. Since 1947, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed the influx of three kinds of refugees. The first is the set of people who migrated to India during Partition in August 1947; they are the West Pakistan Refugees. The second set, known as PaK refugees, came in October 1947 when tribals, aided by the Pakistan army, attacked Kashmir. The third group comprises those evacuated from the villages of Chhamb region in the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan.

 

However, the J&K Government has made a clear-cut distinction in granting citizenship rights to them. Those, it says, who came from Pakistan Administered Kashmir were allowed to settle down in the state with full citizenship rights while the same rights were denied to those who came from Pakistan. As a result, the latter enjoy Indian citizenship and can vote in Lok Sabha election but they have no J&K citizenship and hence cannot vote in Assembly elections.

 

Over the years, the issue has become only more complicated and entangled with the politics of conflict in the state. The State Government argues that as per the provisions of the Article 370, which confers special status on J&K within the Indian Union, it cannot give citizenship rights to anybody who is not the permanent resident of the state, and this includes people both from the rest of India and from Pakistan.

 

However, the Article 370 is not the sole justification. To understand the refugee problem of J&K, it is necessary to understand the context under which these migrations took place in 1947 and the years thereafter. While communal riots in Pakistan brought Hindus from the country to India, including Indian part of J&K, the simultaneous violence in Jammu forced the Muslims to migrate to Pakistan and PaK.

 

Now, it is the demographics of these migrations that has made the issue politically very sensitive in the state. The majority Muslim population in the state fears that granting citizenship rights to Hindu refugees from Pakistan will alter the demographic balance in favour of the minority community in the state which makes it a fraught proposition for any state government if it chooses to do so.

 

On the other hand, the minority community vehemently opposes the Jammu and Kashmir Resettlement Act, which grants the right of return to State subjects who fled to Pakistan or PaK after the Partition riots; among them hundreds of families who migrated to another side from Kashmir Valley.

 

The State Government, however, strongly refutes that it has denied state subject status to the migrants from PaK.

 

“How can we refuse the state subject certificate to them. They belong to an undivided state of J&K and hence are entitled to all the rights as citizens of the state. But we cannot grant the state subject to the refugees from Pakistan,” says a PDP leader while denying that the Government had any plan to grant citizenship to these refugees.

 

“As I told you, the government will not grant citizenship to West Pakistan Refugees.   The identity certificate is there only to help these refugees find jobs with central government departments and the defence forces”.

 

But this has hardly settled the issue.  Among the Valley’s contentious issues, like the establishment of Sainik colonies, the exclusive settlement for Kashmiri Pandits, etc., the issue of the West Pakistan Refugees is the most familiar. It intermittently returns to the political centre stage and goes only after bitterly vitiating the scene. It may not singlehandedly plunge the Valley into turmoil but it does catalyse the movement towards the one in future.

 

In its latest recrudescence, the issue is about the State Government’s alleged decision to grant ‘domicile certificate’ to these refugees. The news about this was carried by a section of the local press and it soon triggered a wave of protests from the separatist and civil society groups.

 

A tired protest script unfolded: Separatists reiterated the move was an attempt to change the demography of the state, so did civil society groups. Not to be left behind, the Valley-based mainstream opposition parties joined the chorus.

 

There is a parallel contentious issue that is similarly a major bone of political contention in the state: It is the Jammu and Kashmir Resettlement Act which grants the right of return to state subjects who fled to Pakistan or Pakistan Administered Kashmir after the Partition riots in Jammu; among them also hundreds of families who migrated to another side from Kashmir Valley.

 

The two issues are interconnected and it is inherently politically polarising to push the case of one set of refugees to the exclusion of another. While the majority in Jammu opposes Resettlement Act, it supports citizenship for the West Pakistan Refugees and vice-versa in Kashmir Valley.

 

The issue is thus politically very sensitive and should not be addressed in a rush without taking the public opinion in the state on board. There are many deep-rooted grievances and unresolved issues in the state, lingering since decades, and all of them cry for an integrated redressal. In this complex milieu, an odd grievance or two, no matter how old, cannot be selectively addressed to the neglect of all other accumulated grievances in all regions of the state.

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