Even after six-and-a-half-decades, refugees who migrated to India from West Pakistan are still not the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. They had migrated to the state from Pakistan's Punjab province during communal riots.
The recent visit of prime minister Manmohan Singh to the state failed to bring any relief to these refugees. Despite all verifications, these refugees were denied an audience with the PM to present their case.
Says Labha Ram Gandhi, president of West Pakistan Refugee Association, "We tried to meet the PM in the Valley, but were denied permission later. However, we managed to submit our memorandum of demands to the PM." Among their main demand include basic fundamental and constitutional rights, including (state) citizenship, since 1947.
In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his visit to the state, had assured the West Pakistani refugees of a special rehabilitation package, including financial assistance and a special recruitment drive for their children. The Prime Minister had also assured to facilitate them with bank loans without security deposit.
In his speech, the PM had also assured of setting up nodal cell in the union ministry of finance to deal with this matter. Even the Wadwa Committee report that was compiled in 2008 clearly stated that the demands of these refugees required immediate consideration.
"Both the Centre and state government are not interested in rehabilitation of these refugees, that is why these promises are still awaiting implementation. Except promises, nothing concrete has been done for us since 1947. Instead of taking effective steps to grant citizenship to refugees, political parties are just trying to befool us," Gandhi said, adding that in the next elections they would give a befitting reply to those opposing their demands.
West Pakistani refugees have for long been demanding state citizenship but there hasn't been a consensus among political parties on the issue.
Meanwhile, Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) spokesperson Ravinder Sharma said, "We treat it as a human issue. Even in a recent meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, we took up their issues but it is a very sensitive matter." The PCC spokesperson said even in July 2012, they submitted a memorandum and briefed the Prime Minister, UPA chairperson and union home minister about the long pending demands and issues of refugees of 1947 from West Pakistan and other displaced people of 1947 from PoK, besides those who have settled in various districts of the Jammu region after 1965 and 1971. They briefed the leaders about various genuine demands of different categories of these refugees and displaced persons, which have remained unresolved so far.
He said the delegation had urged the central leadership for constitution of a high-powered committee to examine various issues and demands of these sections of society.Sharma said, "We are already pleading their cause. We have also sought special concessions for them in the field of education and recruitment for their wards in Central government, army and other paramilitary jobs and sought attention of the central leadership towards their other issues, which are to be dealt with at the central level."
However, Gandhi blamed the Congress for the delay in pleading their case. He said at this juncture the Congress was in a position to settle the issue. "The Congress is heading government at the Centre and the party is a partner in the state government. So, it is high time Congress leaders took a tough stand on the issue," he said.
Over 1.5 lakh West Pakistani refugees are living in the border districts of Jammu, Samba and Kathua for the past 65 years in squalid camps and have been denied citizenship rights.
Certificate they need
West Pakistani refugees in J&K have been demanding the basic fundamental and constitutional rights, including (state) citizenship, since 1947.
Owing to the special status of J&K, the state issues Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) to its citizens. This certificate has been denied to these refugees.Without the PRC, the refugees can neither apply for government jobs nor purchase land in the state.