IT was Partition time of 1947 in India and millions were crossing over to either side. It was a bloody trail-hundreds of thousands were killed and many more hundreds of thousands raped, maimed and looted. Fear, haplessness and desperation were the companions of millions pouring into India at that time. When the land on which they were born was declared foreign overnight by the leaders the hapless people had to run across the borders in search of their new homeland. They came to Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi on the Western side and Bengal, Assam and Tripura on the East.
They were in a way lucky as they were received by the people and Government of Bharat well and were helped in rebuilding their lives.
This story is not about those lucky millions; it is about some unlucky lakhs whose biggest mistake in life was to stray away a few score kilometers into a land that is de jure an integral part of our country but de facto not. These tens of thousands of hapless refugees had entered Jammu & Kashmir state at the time of Partition thinking that they were entering Bharat. Little did they realise that it would turn out to be the worst nightmare of their lives.
It is 62 years since they had entered that state. These refugees number around 250,000 today. Unlike their brother-refugees these unfortunate ones have still not been recognised by the state government of J&K as state subjects. While the other refugees of Partition have become completely integrated into Indian state, these people have been left stateless even to this day.
They can’t own property; they can’t get government employment; they can’t even own a ration card and of course they can’t vote in Panchayat or State election also. For the Government of J&K these people are non-existent; or at the most aliens in its land. Armed with Article 370 that grants it the power to discriminate people in the name of state subjects and non-state subjects, the J&K government is perpetuating worst human rights violations against these 250,000 refugee Indians.
It is the same state government which has opened doors to those who crossed over to Pakistan in 1947 and invited them to return as full state subjects. Even the Union Government’s Home Minister had extended an olive branch to the people living in Pak occupied Kashmir to come back freely to Bharat.
What is shocking and saddening is that the very same governments have no time to think of the West Pakistan Hindu refugees in Jammu; they have no tears to shed for them. This is a brilliant timely study. It is an eye-opener. It should go a long way in helping the cause of the stateless refugees who are praying for national attention.
This report is a tribute to those ordinary and not-so-very-educated-yet-socially-committed leaders of the West Pakistan refugees who have been relentlessly fighting against the injustice and for securing their rights.
Of special focus in this report is the problem of the migrant population from mainly Sialkot in West Pakistan, who currently reside in Jammu in India. These refugees (80 per cent of them are from the Scheduled Castes) migrated during the Partition from Sialkot to Jammu & Kashmir. Historically, Sialkot in West Pakistan and Gurdaspur in India’s Punjab state had very close cultural links. At the time of Partition however, this group chose to take refuge in Jammu, as it was the closest town across the line of Partition from Sialkot. Gurdaspur and Amritsar in Punjab were 92 km and 98 km from Sialkot respectively compared to Jammu, which was only 38 km away. Today, they reside in villages from Kathua to Pallanwalla on the Jammu borders. For 62 years this population of now about 250,000 to 300,000 Scheduled Caste refugees have been denied state subject benefits of J&K, as they are not considered citizens of the State.
Multiple times the Government has promised them change, but since they migrated to India the two or three generations that have been born in Jammu & Kashmir state have also been denied Permanent Resident Certificates. In 2009 Parliamentary elections the Congress assured them state-subjecthood but so far nothing has moved in this direction. These people who set out to make India their own home, today find themselves to be aliens in the country of their choice. In the largest democracy in the world, they have become politically invisible and non-existent.
Three generations of these refugees have been denied basic human rights like the right to employment, education, ownership of property and political participation. While refugees who settled in other parts of India received substantial rehabilitation packages and had opportunities to rise to power like Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, these refugees on the other hand continue to live even today like ‘slave people of a free country’.
The Wadhwa Committee report after studying the situation of West Pakistan refugees concluded that their demand was valid and deserve a sympathetic consideration. The Committee also directed the Deputy Commissioner to offer domicile certificates and ensure a special package for their upliftment. As they are mostly from the SC/ST social castes the Committee emphasised on the granting of Reserve Category Certificates applicable for recruitment to posts under the Central Governments or other State Governments and para-military forces.
So far the Report has not been acted on. The Government of J&K that ordered for a Committee to be set up has failed to follow up on its initiative leaving many questions unanswered. Questions as to whether the government’s apathetic view on this situation is an indication that in the 21st century biases still exist, on the basis of caste and religion even in the highest echelons of society or is a 2/3rd majority in the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly so inconceivable even when 50 thousand families suffer daily for basic fundamental needs?
Today’s situation of the West Pakistan refugees in Jammu & Kashmir is one where their future still seems bleak. Left homeless by the State Government and with the indecisiveness of the Central Government to take corrective measures, they have been isolated.
The State has created a privileged class on the basis of exclusionary laws wherein these Scheduled Caste refugees have suffered for 62 years. The State has refused to relax law creating three more generations of refugees. In any other part of the world children like Babu and Karan would be living as equals with a fair chance of a better life, impoverished women like Namodevi would not have to make their young children work and octogenarians like Des Raj having fought his entire life for basic fundamental rights would live his remaining years with pride, without the tag of a refugee.
This is the fourth in the series of indepth reports on current affairs published by the India Foundation, Delhi. Earlier the Foundation published well researched monographs on the Maoist meance, Truth about Kandhamal and Love Jehad.
It has been 62 years since they have entered the State of Jammu & Kashmir but unlike their brother-refugees these unfortunate ones have still not been recognised by the state government of J&K as state subjects.
This report is about the tragedy of these people, who have been aptly described as “Slave People of a Free Country”. This report and the documentary film should open the eyes of the civil society, human rights groups, political parties and concerned citizens to the fate of the hapless refugees and perhaps pressure would be put on the governments to act.
(It is a report published by India Foundation, New Delhi on the peculiar case of West Pakistan refugees, 80 per cent of whom are Scheduled Caste Hindus.)
(Azad Desh Ke Ghulam Log: Slave People of a Free Country, Rami Desai, India Foundation, Pp 96 (PB), Price-not mentioned)