Analysis: Insecure Even After 60 Years
Intro: Three generations of refugees have been denied basic human rights, and it’s time for political leadership to give back these people life and dignity fate has wrested away from them
The issue of refugees in Jammu and Kashmir comes up for discussion every now and then; presently it is in the lime light in view of the mandate of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the centre that calls for their rehabilitation with dignity. Since the matter is well entrenched in the political domain and will come up in the election campaign for the forthcoming State Assembly polls, it is the right time to reflect on the human dimension of the situation.
New Delhi, as also other metropolitan cities in Indian and across the world, has a large number of smart intelligent young Kashmiri Pundit men and women pursuing successful careers. There is, however, a small hitch in their otherwise invigorating existence – they have never visited their native place, Kashmir. Their grandparents were forced out of their ancestral land about three decades ago due to terrorist brutality; and, their parents who were in their early twenties then left the refugee camps in Jammu and migrated to big cities to make a new life for themselves while, the older generation continued to stay back in the hope they would get back to their beloved homeland someday. But, so far, it has remained a distant dream.
Their progeny, now grown up, relates to a cosmopolitan existence and has only a passing knowledge of its ancestry, and has lost connectivity with their roots.
This columnist gets to meet many of these new generation Kashmiri Pundits brought up in New Delhi. They speak perfect English and Hindi with no trace of the accent that is peculiar to the older Kashmiri generation; some speak Kashmiri, while others can only understand the language.
Another category of persons belonging to J&K who have been displaced due to the cult of terrorism are the Hindus belonging to the hill tracts south of the Pir Panjal mountain range. They were forced out from their villages by terrorists and are now living in dilapidated camps in Jammu and Udhampur. Even though terrorism is contained, unable to return to their villages in fear, their lands have been forcibly occupied, or, they have been intimidated into selling their lands.
Unlike the upwardly mobile and educated Kashmiri Pundits these are poor, hardy, village people who do not have the capacity to build an alternate life so they continue to languish in the camps with no respite in sight.
As one reaches Ranbir Singh Pura in Jammu, there is a road that goes into an area called Simbal Camp. A part of the city, Simbal camp has a rustic sheen around itself. Pot holed roads and half built brick houses between fields that have not been plastered from outside for lack of money indicates life here is on the fringe, and clearly passed over in the large scale development that the rest of Jammu city has witnessed over the years.
The camp is the residence of mostly Sikhs and some Hindus who during the holocaust of the partition, ran out from Muzaffarabad and other areas that now constitute Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). When they vacated their homes to save themselves they were given no shelter in adjoining Kashmir valley; and had no choice but to settle in the area known as a “camp” since then.
Though state subjects by law their very status is ambiguous with definitions ranging from refugees to migrants to displaced persons. They do not get compensation for the properties lost in their ancestral homeland on the premise that they will get back the same when POK comes back to the Indian Union, and feeling of insecurity continues even sixty years after their initial dislocation.
The belt of villages from Kathua to Pallanwalla has yet another heartrending story to tell; in these villages live people who moved with their families from Pakistan to the border villages in Jammu to escape the brutality of partition. Unlike the people who were dislocated from POK they were not considered state subjects. Now six decades down the line they continue to live without an identity, and have been denied the status of a state subject of J&K.They cannot own property, don’t have ration cards and have no voting rights.
Three generations of these refugees have been denied basic human rights like the right of citizenship, employment, education, ownership of property etc. What is even more distressing for them is that their brethren who settled in other parts of India are now bona-fide citizens of India and are doing well.
It is in the backdrop of this human aspect that the issue of refugees in Jammu and Kashmir should be considered. The time has come for the leadership to rise above partisan interests and give back to these people the life and dignity that fate has wrested away from them. Surely this is not too much to ask for!
Jaibans Singh (The writer is a Chief Editor. E-mail – [email protected])