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Sunday Special » Perspective

Posted at: Aug 11, 2019, 7:19 AM; last updated: Aug 11, 2019, 7:38 AM (IST)

West Pak refugees: Home, finally

Small in number, denied citizen rights since 1947

Dinesh Manhotra in Jammu

To defend the decision to abrogate Article 370, PM Narendra Modi in his ‘address to the nation’ made it a point to highlight the “political discrimination” meted out to the West Pakistani refugees living in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947. Denied the right to vote, these refugees have painful stories to narrate about humiliation and discrimination.

In Parliament, Union Home Minister Amit Shah mentioned how Dr Manmohan Singh and Inder Kumar Gujral, both Partition refugees from Pakistan, rose to become Prime Minister, but those who had taken shelter in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 could not even contest the election for panch. 

During 1947, when Hindus and Sikhs from Sialkot were migrating to India, some families had preferred to cross over to J&K and take shelter as this place was nearer. Since then, these refugees, majority of them Dalits and OBCs, have struggled for a dignified settled life.

Abrogation of Article 370 has rekindled a ray of hope. “Now our coming generations will live a dignified life,” says octogenarian Chuni Lal. “After staying here for a year after Partition, we had decided to move out but Sheikh Abdullah had stopped us from shifting to Punjab with a promise to grant all constitutional and fundamental rights, like for other residents of J&K.” It did not happen. “Had we moved out, we would have been living a dignified life,” adds Chuni Lal, who’s been camping at Chak Bhopat village on the banks of river Tawi since 1947.

In the early 1950s, like other parts of the country, J&K was also confronted with acute foodgrain shortage so the then state government allotted these refugees barren land with a promise to restore ownership rights. Notwithstanding the notification of May 1954, they did not get ownership rights despite toiling hard to turn deserted lands into cultivable fields. “Now we will get ownership right of the land we have been cultivating since 1947,” hopes Sohan Lal, a refugee leader.

Suffixed with the title of ‘Gair Bashinda’ (non-resident), these families could not own property, get government employment or even a ration card. All thanks to Articles 370 and 35A.

“Four generations have been denied basic rights. We are citizens of India but without rights which every ‘state subject’ of J&K enjoys,” says Shamsher Kumar, the only matriculate of Chak Bhopat. Kumar had made up his mind to contest election to the post of panch in 2018 but was debarred. The entire population of Chat Bhopat belongs to Barwala-a Maha Dalit community but all are barred from availing benefits of schemes meant for weaker sections. 

Not considered citizens

Article 35A was incorporated in the Indian Constitution on May 14, 1954 by a Presidential Order. It enabled the state Assembly to define ‘permanent residents’ and give them special rights and privileges, as well as to restrict the rights and privileges of all citizens of India who do not fit into this category.

As a consequence, no one except those defined as ‘permanent residents’ were entitled to property rights, jobs, participation in elections, admission to government-run institutions; scholarships and other social benefits.

As per the Constitution of J&K, only those who were living in J&K before or on May 14, 1944 were entitled to the title of “state subject”. The refugees were left out and were denied the Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC). Only those holding a certificate can own property, gain admission, apply for employment with the government, or vote.

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