Finally India’s Oldest Refugees In J&K Get Aid-Package,But No Permanent-Resident Status


SRINAGAR:On November 30, central government approved Rs 2000 crore package for refugees from Pakistan but stayed short of acceding to their long-standing contentious demand for a permanent resident status in the state, denied to them since they came to J&K from Pakistan during partition and the subsequent wars with Pakistan.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved Central assistance of Rs. 2000 crore as one-time settlement of 36,384 displaced families from Pakistan's side of Jammu & Kashmir and Chhamb following an announcement of PM's development package for Jammu & Kashmir in November 2015," read a government statement.

The fund is part of a Rs. 80,000 crore economic package for J&K announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Srinagar in November 2015. .

However, the aid package, about Rs 5.5 lakh per family,  also falls far short of the Rs 30 lakh recommended by a parliamentary committee. Already, the senior Congress leader and former Revenue Minister from the state Raman Bhalla has termed the reduction in the aid a betrayal with the refugee community.

“The  one time settlement package of Rs 25 lakh per family, amounting to over Rs 9000 crore along with several other concessions was recommended by the previous Congress-NC Government to the Centre,”, Bhalla said.  “But BJP for all its fiery rhetoric for the refugees has provided only Rs 2000 crore”.

However, politicization of the aid package is the least of the concerns about the West Pakistan Refugees in a state where the politics over their proposed citizenship has been a factor in the ongoing ferment in Kashmir.  While Sangh Parivar bats on their full citizenship, Kashmir Valley and the parties across mainstream-separatist divide based out of there like ruling PDP and the National Conference are dead against it, alleging that according to Article 370, no outsider can be granted citizenship of J&K. Separatists, on the other hand, see the move designed to “change the demography of the state and dilute its Muslim majority character”. 

This is why when in 2015, a Joint Parliamentary Committee recently recommended the grant of state citizenship and voting rights to them, it touched off a political storm in J&K. The PDP and the National Conference closed ranks against the Centre’s “unilateral move”. Separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik threatened to launch an agitation, as did the independent legislator Engineer Rashid, should the process go ahead.

Successive state governments also argue they are constitutionally barred to grant them citizenship rights. According to Section 6 of the J&K Constitution, comprising the state subject notifications issued by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927 and 1932, the West Pakistan Refugees are not covered under any category of permanent residents. The Article 370 of the Indian Constitution only reinforces these provisions and denies citizenship to anyone who is not a permanent resident, ostensibly to protect the state’s demographic character.

Their Population

In 2007, the GD Wadhwa committee formed by the state government to carry out the census of the refugees reported that around 5,764 refugee families had arrived in the state in 1947, comprising a population of 47,215, but the committee didn’t estimate their current population. But a 2012 study by the West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee (WPRAC) claimed that the number of families has gone up to 18,428, comprising a population of around 1.5 lakh.

 The history and politics

 This might seem strange, even bizarre, but it’s true. Since 1947, Jammu & 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 PcK refugees, came in October 1947 when tribals aided by the Pakistan army attacked Kashmir. The third group comprises those who were evacuated from the villages of Chhamb region in the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan.

 However, J&K Government has made a clear-cut distinction in granting citizenship rights to them. Those, it says, who came from Pakistan Controlled 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. State Government argues that as per the provisions of the Article 370 which confers special status on J&K within 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, 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 PcK.

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

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