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The Great Divide


Post-partition refugees in Jammu from the then West Pakistan and POK are leading a life of penury and misery, with very little hope of things changing anytime soon. Pramod Kumar reports from Jammu.
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: December 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Jammu Refugee | West Pakistan | Rajiv Chuni | President of SOS | Labba Ram Gandhi | Narendra Modi |

If the phrase "Between the rock and the hard place" was ever fit for someone, it is for the refugees who migrated from the then West Pakistan to India. Although the city of Jammu is home to several refugee communities, the case of those who migrated from West Pakistan post partition, including those who were driven by Pakistan supported tribal attacks, is peculiar in many ways. The pain is compounded by the fact that they can still see their homes on the other side of the international border; the homes that they will probably never be able to go back to. 

Most of these refugees are devoid of voting rights even after having spent six decades in India. There are 20,000 such individuals settled in Jammu alone, who curiously have the right to vote in the Parliamentary elections, but cannot vote in the State Assembly elections or the local elections, as they still have not been granted state domicile. This leads to several other problems, the most prominent among them being not able to either own property in the state or being able to apply for any government jobs. This is different from other refugees from Pakistan who are settled in other parts of India, who have got full rights, unlike their brethren in Jammu.

The situation is compounded by the fact that the misery has touched the third generation now. Because of the absence of state domicile, the children of these refugees cannot get admission for higher studies through state domicile quota. This also means that they are devoid of the benefits of several central government schemes.

Since most of these refugees belong to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe categories, their social and financial situation is appalling. Since the state government considers them outsiders, it can’t provide them SC/ST certificates. Needless to say, they are not able to benefit from any of the central or state run schemes.

Spread over as many as 15 Assembly segments, these 55,000 people are still ruing that day when they decided to come and settle in J&K. When they first came here, they were assured that they would get all the facilities and rights which have been awarded to other refugees who decided to settle in other states. The Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir was adopted in 1957. It was during its implementation that they were deliberately kept out of the state domicile list. Rajiv Chuni, President of SOS, one of the organisations working for these refugees, maintains that the criteria which was used to keep them devoid of domicile was in stark contrast with the promises made to them. It was not surprising, since the people who made that Constitution were those who were living in the state before 1944, and hence had a tunnel vision as far as refugees were concerned. Although the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and Supreme Court have passed several judgements in refugees’ favour, the state government never came around to implementing them.

Labba Ram Gandhi, president of West Pakistan Refugee Committee, another NGO working for their cause, says, “If the Government of India considers Jammu and Kashmir as an inseparable territory of India, why is it not able to give rights to the people living here, which are easily available to those living in the other parts of the country?”

Gandhi further added that when Narendra Modi was addressing pre-election rallies, he had assured that he would solve the issue of refugees in three months following his election. “Leave alone three months, it’s has been over three years now and nothing has moved. Since we don’t have representation in the Assembly, no one gives two hoots about our rights. The MP pays us a visit every five years on the eve of election, without doing anything for us,” he adds ruefully.

A Parliamentary Committee did recommend compensation for these people but the order was never implemented by the state government. Activists insist that since officers from state government don’t have the required integrity to deal with them, they will need an officer from the Central cadre to act as a nodal officer.

Another set of refugees comprises those who ran away from what is now Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) during the tribal raids of 1948. Their's is an even more pitiful condition. Their demand for financial compensation has not been met on the grounds that it will weaken India’s case on POK. Most of these refugees are from Muzaffarabad and Mirpur districts. Because of the legal tangle, their exact status has not been defined and they are not part of any category, be it is “refugee”, “displaced people”, “internally displaced people” or “immigrants”. The confusion has affected three generations.

These migrants had borne the worst brunt of tribal raids and according to some reports, as many as 12,000 of them had been killed on the very first day of attack. Many of those who witnessed that carnage still find it difficult to cope with that memory. While many of them managed to reach the Indian side of Kashmir, quite a few couldn’t make it back safely and lost their lives. These people bought the government fairy tales that India would soon capture POK and they would go back to their homes. No points for guessing how that turned out for them.

After years of struggle, a part of their demand was met by the then National Conference-Congress government in the State and a decision was taken to award a lump sum compensation of Rs 25 lakhs per family as a onetime relief measure. The entire package was coming to around
Rs 9096 crore. The proposal was sent to the central government, but the Parliamentary elections put a brake on the entire process. The change of guard at the Centre put the entire thing on the backburner.

Months later, the present dispensation at the Centre announced Rs 80,000 crore worth of relief-package for the state of Jammu & Kashmir, and the compensation amount for these refugees was lowered to a piffling Rs 2000 crores. Even that amount never saw the light of the day.

Chuni maintains that these refugees should either be awarded refugee status or the status of internally displaced people, and should be resettled under the provisions and guidelines of the United Nations.

In the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, 24 seats out of the total 111 have been set aside for POK. The elections are held in only 87 out of these 111 seats. Chuni and others demand that at least eight of those uncontested seats should be awarded to the representatives from among these refugees.

Other demands include recovery of their money deposited in the Mirpur Branch of J&K Bank and creation of a satellite town like those being constructed for Kashmiri Pandits. However these are easier said than done.

While the government toys about how to deal with the situation, there is hardly any doubt that another generation of these refugees will be born in misery. What their future holds is anybody’s guess.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017