Unest over, J&K has witnessed fresh tension over the West Pakistan Refugees. It’s true that their rehabilitation has always been a very tricky subject in the state. Pro-freedom, civil society groups and also Valley-centred mainstream parties like National Conference and even ruling PDP have always opposed their settlement on the grounds that doing so would severely compromise the J&K’s special status under Article 370 and violate the state’s constitution whose section 6 forbids grant of citizenship to outsiders. On the other hand, Congress and the parties like Bhartiya Janata Party want full citizenship rights for them with the former nuancing its approach in deference to its constituency in Kashmir. The issue in all its troubling dimensions has now once again hurtled to the centre stage. In its latest recrudescence, the issue is about the State Governments decision to grant domicile certificate to the refugees. The news about this was recently carried by a section of the local press and it soon triggered a wave of protest 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 opposition parties joined the chorus. The veteran National Conference leader Ali Mohammad Sagar echoed Hurriyat by warning that the move was aimed at changing demography of Jammu and Kashmir.
Fearing the relapse of Valley into turmoil, the Government came up with the clarification that it had only issued “identity certificates” to the refugees to facilitate their recruitment in central government services, and not the domicile certificates.
The issue of West Pakistan Refugees has complex legal and political dimensions. Whenever, the issue returns to the political discourse, it invariably gets enmeshed with the lingering politics of conflict in the state. There is a parallel 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 PaK after the Partition riots in Jammu, among them also hundreds of families who migrated to other side from Kashmir Valley. The two issues are inter-connected and it is inherently politically polarizing to push the case of one type of refugees to the exclusion of another. At the same time, the question of both types of refugees is rooted into the overall issue of Kashmir.
As a result, all political parties in the state need to exercise utmost restraint before raking up issues that are entangled with the troubled political baggage of the state. We certainly need to work for a solution but this ought to be comprehensive, as part of all the issue that make Kashmir such a problematic place. Only an integrated effort geared to resolve Kashmir conflict in all its dimension will have an inbuilt solution for West Pakistan Regugees too.
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