Stirring a hornet's nest

Sops for West Pakistan refugees without taking into account complexity of the issue fraught with dangers

The reported inclination of the Central government to grant citizenship rights to over a million erstwhile West Pakistan refugees and other incentives in the light of the recommendations of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) is fraught with dangerous consequences in Jammu and Kashmir, already reeling under conflict and the extremely complex dynamics of the recent assembly polls verdict. A virtual red rag in the Valley and also in rest of the state, barring BJP, this move is being seen by all political parties including separatists as a major move to change the demography of the state and alter its Muslim majority character. Several political formations and civil society groups have vehemently opposed the move while BJP and other fringe groups of the saffron brigade operating in the state have defended the decision, without taking into account the complexity it evokes and the opposition it invites. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has approved concessions for West Pakistan Refugees living in Jammu after considering the problems they are facing. He has directed the heads of all Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) that West Pakistan refugees from Jammu and Kashmir, who are Indian citizens and have valid voter IDs, should be considered for recruitment, including special recruitment drives conducted in the state. The union home ministry has also asked the state government to give the West Pakistan refugees the Domicile Certificate, which is likely to open a pandora’s box as it may pave the way for final permanent residentship rights for the refugees.

The West Pakistan refugees indeed cannot be denied Indian citizenship rights as they were displaced in 1947. However, granting them residentship of Jammu and Kashmir is at odds with the special status of the state and its decades old law on citizenship that has been in place since the time of the Dogra rule and must be avoided at all costs. This is not to de-legitimise the sufferings of the West Pakistan refugees. They, indeed, have been an ignored lot and living under shabby conditions ever since their flight from Pakistan in 1947, they are not permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir and an oversimplification on this count would only stir a hornet’s nest. To ensure justice to them is a tricky question and while several innovative schemes can be explored, none of them can be done by causing insecurity to the majority of the state. Unfortunately, their question which should have been settled decades ago best by rehabilitating them suitably in neighbouring states, was never taken up by successive governments for fear of raking up a controversy. The time lapse has added to the complexity of the issue as the third generation of these refugees has found roots in Jammu and Kashmir and dislodging ruthlessly without adequate compensation and adequate measures to ensure their safety, their economic and social sustainability would be grossly unfair. However, trying to treat the issue of the West Pakistan refugees as a simple one of relief and rehabilitation would be even more catastrophic. 

Ever since BJP led by Narendra Modi came into power at the Centre, it has been trying to either rake up the Article 370 abrogation slogan or deviously picking on the refugee issue with an obvious intent to enlarge its own vote bank and alter the demography of the state. Soon after it came into power, the union home ministry floated the plan to introduce a package for all displaced persons in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 including a fair share of those dislocated from Pakistan Administered Kashmir between 1947 to 1971 and the 1947 refugees from West Pakistan, thus deviously obliterating the difference between these two set of displaced persons with different issues. The fresh moves have only further clarified such doubts that had emerged months ago when the reports about such a plan were leaked. That the move is inspired by a devious agenda and not some kind of sensitivity regarding the problems faced by displaced persons is demonstrated by the fact that the same government remains largely unmoved by the neglect and apathy faced by other groups of displaced persons across the country, where no political complexity is involved. Had this not been the case, then surely the government would have thought first of dealing with those displaced by Hirakud and Narmada dams, or those displaced by communal riots including those displaced more recently in 2002 in Gujarat.