Amid row over NRC Assam draft, 1.25L West Pak refugees pin hope on Supreme Court
Even as the National Register for Citizens’ (NRC) draft has kicked up a political storm across the country, nearly 1.25 lakh West Pakistan refugees, belonging to scheduled caste and backward classes, remain the “most affected” victims of partition and official apathy by the successive regimes in “special” state of Jammu and Kashmir.
They fled Pakistan during the partition from Sialkot and settled in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts where 70 years on they have not been given citizenship rights to vote in the assembly elections.
And, they have no access to the state governments’ jobs and their children are not given admissions in professional courses. However, they can vote in Parliament elections. In simple words, they are Indians but not the citizens of J&K.
“Seventy years on, the outside world know little about our plight. Our children cannot become even class IV employees in the state,” said Labha Ram Gandhi, the chairman of West Pak Refugees Action Committee 1947.
Gandhi recollected that in 1947 Hindus and marginal number of Sikhs fled Shakkergarh, Narowal, Pasrur and Sialkot in Pakistan’s Punjab province to escape killings and subsequently settled close to the border in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.
“In 1954 the then government allotted 46,666 kanals of agrarian land to 5,764 families for farming. Those who migrated to India’s Punjab became absolute citizens of the state and the country but our third generation is still being denied citizenship rights in J&K. We are the worst victims of Partition and official apathy,” he said.
The number of West Pak refugees (WPRs) has now swelled to nearly 1.25 lakh.
He also informed that due to special status of the state, they have not been given proprietary rights of land allotted to them.
These refugees in J&K cannot vote in panchayat and assembly elections. They are also not entitled for state government jobs and their children are barred from getting admissions in professional colleges.
He acerbically said, “While, 13 Bangladeshis became MLAs in Assam over the years, but our picture is completely different because we are not considered permanent residents of J&K.”
While the Supreme Court (SC) has to hear the petitions challenging Article 35A relating to special rights and privileges of permanent residents of J&K, West Pak refugees have sought resolution to one of the biggest human tragedies.
Kali Dass, Sanjay Kumar and Balwant Singh had moved the apex court against Article 35A on the grounds that it was grossly discriminatory against West Pak refugees, who have been forced to live like destitute in deplorable conditions, deprived of basic human rights, safety and security and they could not secure employment in the state.
They have moved the SC against continuation of Article 35A that grants exclusive state subject rights and other privileges to “permanent residents” of the state. Last year, two Kashmiri women had also filed a petition before the SC on the grounds that special laws flowing from Article 35A had disenfranchised their children from the citizenship rights and other privileges since they married non-state subjects. The apex court has to resume hearing on August 6.
According to official data there were 5,764 families of WPRs comprising 47,915 persons, who had migrated from West Pakistan in 1947 and settled in border districts. Today their population has gone up to nearly 1.25 lakh.
It may be stated here that Kashmir centric political parties were stiffly opposed to any tinkering with Article 35A.