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 told PTI. 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.
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“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.