The row over the Government of India’s move to grant citizenship rights to a few thousand refugees from erstwhile West Pakistan who are settled in Jammu is snowballing into a major political controversy in the state. The decision has been taken in the light of the ‘Joint Parliamentary Recommendations’.
West Pakistan Refugees, 80 percent of whom are of the scheduled cast, are mainly Hindus who migrated during the partition from Sialkot to Jammu and Kashmir. They chose to take refuge in Jammu as it was the closet town across the line of partition from Sialkot. The WP refugees continue to live in miserable conditions since past six decades in villages from Kathua to Pallanwalla in Jammu along the international border with Pakistan.
According to official statistics, only one lakh 14 thousand West Pakistan refugees are living in 137 hamlets in RS pura, Suchet garh and Bisnah constituencies of Jammu region.
The union home ministry has approved certain concession for the West Pakistan refugees recently, including recruitment right for the Central Armed Police Forces and special recruitment drives in the state. Besides, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs has also recommended that the refugees be given citizenship rights in the state.
However, all the separatist factions and mainstream parties of Kashmir, in unison, have opposed the Government of India’s move to grant citizenship rights to West Pakistan refugees fearing that move was aimed at changing the demography of the state.
Hurriyat (G) Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani had threatened to launch an agitation if the Centre granted citizenship and voting rights to WP refugees adding that the move was aimed at altering the demography of the state.
Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq recently held an emergency meeting over the issue and alleged Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) of planning to change the demographics in J&K to subvert referendum on Kashmir problem. Mirwaiz had said that Hurriyat was going to chalk out the future strategy with other separatist groups and civil society members to plan a united resistance against such a move. Chairman, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Mohammad Yasin Malik also organised protests against granting of rights to West Pakistan refugees in the state.
It’s just not only separatists but mainstream parties of valley seem to be too concerned about the issue of West Pakistan refugees in the state.
National Conference, the state’s oldest mainstream political party has also opposed the recommendations. National Conference General Secretary and Former minister Ali Muhammad Sagar termed the recommendations as ‘unacceptable’ and saw the move as a wicked conspiracy to temper the special status of Jammu and Kashmir State.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats in the recently concluded 2014 state elections also cautioned Government of India against a “hasty decision.” “It is a legacy of the partition and a very complicated and complex issue. No decision on such a sensitive matter should be taken arbitrarily as it could have serious repercussions,” PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar had said.
Earlier, Independent legislator Sheikh Engineer Rashid had staged a protest and urged all the political parties and separatists groups to counter the move. Rashid is also holding a seminar on Jan 19 where he has invited all the separatist and mainstream leaders against the centre’s move to grant citizenship rights to refugees.
On the other hand, refugees claim if the rights would not be given to them, they would approach international human right organizations as they have a right to live with dignity. According to them, they have been living in miserable conditions from past six decades and have decided to take their case before international human right organizations if Kashmir leaders would try to ‘subvert’ their rights.
Rajiv Chuni, the chairman of SOS international-an organisation of Pakistan-administered Kashmir (Pak) refugees settled in Jammu believes Kashmiri separatists and mainstream parties are misleading the people. According to him, how can only a meager number of people change the demography of the state?
Pertinent to mention that the issue was one of the main election planks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the recently concluded assembly elections in the state. The party had promised to actualize the recommendations and accomplishment of the programme.
BJP which emerged as the second largest party in the state bagging 25 seats is committed to provide rights to West Pakistan refugees, who have been living under all odds from the past six decades. The BJP leaders and even some Jammu-based Congress leaders like Raman Bhalla, Sham Lal Sharma and Manjit Singh and a number of social and political groups condemned the anti-refugee forces, saying that the whole issue is of humanitarian nature and they would continue to fight for their rights.
If separatist leaders of Kashmir continue to resent the move, any such decision may prove counterproductive which can easily threaten the state’s very fragile political atmosphere.
The refugees’ issue has risen to such an extent that some people are saying the trifurcation of the state is the only solution to end the crises. The statements from separatists and other groups can trigger law and order problem in both regions of the state which will have serious consequences.
It is pertinent to mention that the election results on December 23 had thrown up a fractured verdict and the political parties failed to reach to a consensus over government formation thus leading the state for the Governor’s rule. Any decision in this regard is therefore, the responsibility of the governor who shall have to analyze all the aspects and every dimension of the issue in order to reach to a decision. The Central government too must also intervene to find out a possible solution to solve this refugees’ crisis for the larger interests of the state.
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