Justice denied to Pak refugees

By K.N. Pandita

How cruel destiny can be is reflected in the treatment meted out to the Hindu and Sikh refugees who originally belonged to West Pakistan and were forced to flee their homes and seek shelter across the Indo-Pak border in Indian Territory. In the holocaust that accompanied partition of the country in 1947, millions were decimated in communal riots and millions more became refugees. In those times of great cataclysm, nobody knew where he would head to, where he would get shelter and where his new home would be. Would he have a home at all?

What befell the refugees from Pak occupied part of the State is a saga of great sorrow and pain. But what befell the Hindus and Sikhs of West Pakistan whose destiny drove them to the State of Jammu and Kashmir for asylum is still a big blot on the history of post-independent India. Their fault was that they came to J&K State which was not the erstwhile British Indian territory but a princely state of the British Indian Empire ruled by the Maharaja.

It is just a freak of chance that they chose to come to this State. Perhaps they were driven by penury to seek the nearest place where they could find shelter and did have the means to go to far off places either in Punjab or in Delhi or other parts of Northern India. Some of them were destitute to the extent that they looked for a near or distant relative in and around Jammu region and came to be stay with him in desperation.

But the Srinagar government would not grant them domicile certificate taking shelter behind the State Subject Rule. Yes this rule did exist and that is why the Srinagar government refused them the state subject-hood. It is now six decades and half that they have only a permit to stay in the State (being concentrated in Jammu) but not the Domicile Certificate. As such these people have been placed in a strangely unfortunate situation. As non-state subjects they cannot raise any property and their children cannot be absorbed in the State government service. They are denied all those benefits and perks which ordinary citizen of the State enjoys. Despite decades-long protests, nobody has come to their rescue.

In an extraordinary situation, rules and regulations have to be modified to accommodate the interest of the people and mitigate their suffering. Rules are made by human beings not by angels that these cannot be modified to meet a particular unforeseen eventuality. Sheikh Abdullah was made Chief Administrator on October 29, 1947 although the then Constitution of the State did not provide for any such arrangement. The Constitution was not amended yet the Sheikh was given all those powers which a Prime Minster enjoyed. How come the constitutional provisions were not adhered to? Justification has been sought in a situation of extraordinary circumstances. Why could not have the state subject rules been modified for one time at least to accommodate these refugees who had lost everything on earth.

Again in 1975, Mir Qasim, the then Chief Minister resigned and introduced a resolution in the Assembly to offer the position of Chief Minster to Sheikh Abdullah who was neither a member of the Legislative Assembly nor of the Legislative Council. Was it not in contravention of the Constitution of the State and the Union? If these extraordinary decisions were taken in the larger interests of the State, was it not also in the larger interests of the State to give one time concession to the West Pakistan refugees. What does a “State” mean and what does the phrase “in the larger interests of the State” mean? Without going into the jargon of political science, State simply means the people and their well being. Those who left West Punjab in the aftermath of partition came to India, the country where they felt their lives would be safe. They believed that J&K was India and if they came to the State either temporarily or permanently, they thought they were in Indian Union.

As a result of Pakistan’s illegal occupation of a part of the J&K State, the Srinagar-based Constituent Assembly reserved 22 seats for that part of the State. According to dependable sources many of the people of PoK have left their homes and settled in different parts of West Pakistan. Despite their migration, they have retained their claim to the 24 seats reserved for them. How come that since they have renounced State Subjecgt-hood long back and settled in Lahore, Karachi and other cities of Pakistan they continue to be entitled to elect their representative for J&K Assembly? They are no more the citizens of J&K State. There should have been an amendment in the Constitution of J&K stipulating that the people of the erstwhile J&K State who have migrated to West Pakistan have lost their state subject-hood. This has not been done. But the refugees from West Pakistan are denied Domicile Certificate. This is totally unjust and unacceptable.

Many Kashmiri militants violated the rules and clandestinely crossed over to PoK where they were admitted to terrorist training camps, received training in terrorism and sabotage, got arms and ammunition and infiltrated back into Kashmir where they let loose terrorist activities, attacks and mayhem and when pursued, ran away back to PoK. Despite their sordid antecedent, the State government announced amnesty to them and offered them rehabilitation package back in the valley plus jobs, loans and other perks. They came back, albeit through clandestine routes and not through approved routes, along with Pakistani wives and children. Back in the valley their cases are written off in the police station and they are provided jobs and loans to re-start their lives fresh. Incidentally some of them rejoined the ranks of militants and are back to their old game.

As against this, West Pakistan refugees cannot buy land or house, cannot raise property, cannot be recruited in the state government service and cannot enjoy any facility available to the State subjects. Where are their human rights?

A few concessions given to them by the Home Minster may help some of them to find means of sustenance or opportunity for education of their children, but it does not resolve the fundamental problem with which they are beset. They have to be accepted as the State Subject, given the right to vote and the right to sand for elections. Above all, after giving them the state subject-hood, they will have to be provided the commensurate quota from the assembly seats reserved for PoK.

We know that this matter revolves round demography. We would like to know how many Bangladeshis, Biharis, Chitralis, Afghans and Baltis who are non-state subject have been assimilated in Kashmir valley? There is a human aspect to demographic re-distribution and we shall have to be uniform in application of humanitarian dispensation.

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