West Pakistan refugees in J-K ‘empty-handed’ even 70 years after Independence
West Pakistan refugees (WPRs) living in Jammu and Kashmir do not see any hope in the state government’s recent decision to give them identity certificates as it will not entitle them to the basic ‘fundamental rights’.
These refugees, who migrated from West Pakistan after partition of the country in 1947 to settle in Kathua, Samba and Jammu districts of the state, have been demanding citizenship rights, a right to vote, contest state assembly polls and a rehabilitation package in vain for the past 70 years.
At present, WPRs comprise 19,960 families with a population of around 80,000 to 85,000. They are not considered naturalised citizens of the state even though many of them have been living in the state from three generations.
They are only entitled to vote in parliament elections, but can’t exercise their franchise in state assembly polls. The J&K Constitution provides voting rights in assembly and local body polls only to naturalised residents.
The announcement of issuing the “certificate” to WPRs sparked a violent protest in Jammu and Kashmir, prompting the government spokesperson and education minister Nayeem Akhtar to clarify on Thursday that it would not change the status of the refugees.
“The WPRs being non-state subjects can’t apply for any job within the state. So to facilitate them to get jobs in paramilitary forces and other central government establishments, the government has issued them the Identity certificates. This does not in any way change their status. They will continue to be the non-state subjects,” he said.
Labha Ram Gandhi, chairman of the West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee 1947, agreed with the minister.
He said a “false impression” is being created that our status has been changed. “The non-issue is being made into an issue and is being given a communal colour by some vested interests, including politicians. We are being issued identity certificates and not domicile certificates, as it is being made out,” he clarified.
He accused all the successive central governments for their plight. “The settlement of WPRs is a humanitarian issue and not a political issue or a communal issue. Despite living here for 70 years, nobody owns us. In the past seven decades from various governments, we have received mere assurances of giving us basic fundamental rights. Many committees, groups, were formed to look into our demands, but till date they remain only on papers”, lamented Gandhi.
Gandhi alleged, “In the grab of an identification certificate, there is a sinister design to convert the entire J&K into a Muslim state or get it integrated with Pakistan.”
“The saddest part is weak and appeasement policies are being pursued by the successive Central governments, which led to the present situation,” he added.