Last week, the Centre announced that it is planning a ₹2,000-crore package for more than 36,000 refugee families from Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK), who crossed over to India after the 1947, 1965 and 1971 wars, and are now living in Jammu and Kashmir. The package was first announced as part of the ₹80,000-crore package for the state by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2015. This mega push comes on the heels of the PM speaking on the plight of the minorities in PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan in Pakistan on August 12.
While the NDA government’s decision to help PoK political refugees is commendable, what is shocking is that similar sentiments are never on display when it comes to those who have been displaced due to political strife within India. In United Nations parlance, such people are called Internally Displaced People (IDPs). In fact, there is total silence on the plight of such people.
When I first heard about the financial package for PoK refugees, I remembered my visits to Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and about those displaced due to the ongoing ‘war’ between the Maoists and the security forces.
In one instance, a woman in tribal woman in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district narrated how armed Salwa Judum activists had landed in her village, accused the dirt-poor tribals of being Maoist supporters, ransacked their belongings and burnt down their homes.
“We ran to the forests and hid there for weeks. I was eight months pregnant. He was born there,” she said, pointing to her young son. “But many never came back....they went off to Andhra Pradesh and Orissa”. Salwa Judum was initiated in the Bastar region in 2005 as a State response to Maoism but was disbanded after a Supreme Court order in 2011.
Later during a visit to Telangana’s Khammam district I met several families who left Chhattisgarh because, as one tribal migrant said: “We did not want to become a pawn in the fight between Maoists and security forces”.
Such forced physical dislocation leads to several problems for IDPs: Harassment by police and forest officials of states where they have migrated; exploitation by local labour contractors who force them to accept lower wages; no access to schools for their children and health services for the family.
Forced migration also leads to disruption of cultural and community ties. Last but not the least, women face threats of violence and trafficking. Inadequate access to water, food, sanitation and healthcare mean their children are at greater risk of malnutrition and illness.
Unfortunately, India does not have a legal framework to deal with IDPs. In fact, India has no data on how many IDPs are in the country. The Norwegian Refugee Council puts the figure for 2015 at more than 560,000, while the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s said at least 853,900 people were displaced by violence in India.
India has neither signed the 1951 UN refugee convention nor its 1967 protocol and does not permit the UN high commissioner for refugees — which works with IDPs — access to camps.
Without a law, IDPs end up being nowhere people with no state wanting to accommodate them “because they eat into development funds meant for local residents”, as one government official put it.
Unfortunately, not all IDP groups are as lucky or politically crucial as PoK refugees to catch the government’s attention and get financial help to rebuild their lives.