Intro: Ringside view of a man who became refugee three times in his life.
Dharam Mitter Gupta, 85, can hardly read newspapers, but he is aware of the coming elections in Jammu & Kashmir. The octogenarian who lives in a small apartment at Pashchim Vihar in Delhi views the political scenario in the state with cynical hopelessness and a measured tinge of hope. He holds a unique 'distinction' of being exiled three times in his life time from his home State of J&K.
Voters in J&K are once again going to elect 87 MLAs for a House that actually comprises 111 seats. Of these, 46 seats will go to the Kashmir Valley, 37 to Jammu region and 4 to Ladakh. Remaining 24 seats are perpetually left vacant as they belong to areas like Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Bhimbar, Kotli, Dev Batala etc. of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) as well as Gilgit and Baltistan. It was his home town Mirpur in PoK from where Mitter and his family were forced to flee on the night of November 25 in 1947, when Pakistani Army and its tribal supporters had attacked them.
Far more than 50 thousand fleeing Hindus and Sikhs were butchered across PoK in this most horrible chapter of post-Partition violence. Later, circumstances pushed the octagenarian and thousands like him from J&K to other parts of India in search of jobs and shelter for themselves and their kids. The community of people like him, their children and grand children numbers above a million today, who are scattered across India. Many have migrated to some western countries.
The 20th amendment in the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir, (1947) which leaves 24 PoK seats vacant in the J&K Assembly, assures people of J&K origin like Mitter that these seats will be filled up whenever PoK returns to India. But what hurts him deeply is that none of his fellow refugees were ever allowed to have any say in the fate of their home state during past 67 years. Still worse, neither of the governments at New Delhi or Srinagar is even prepared to recognise this community as refugees from their own home State, leave aside certifying them as 'State Subjects'.
It is not therefore surprising that with their share of 24 seats lying permanently vacant in the J&K Assembly, this delicate State of Indian Republic has been left to the mercy of a brutal and manipulated majority of the Kashmir Valley that actually represents only 9 percent of the geographic area of the State.
Dharam Mitter was one year old when he became a 'refugee' first time in his life in 1931, when his father Lala Mukand Lal Mahajan 'Panjani Waale' was robbed of his property and forced to quit his village Panjan in the Mirpur district as a result of an unprecedented massacre; this year is also remembered among the surviving Hindu and Sikh families as 'Athaasee Na Shorash' (viz 'the massacre of 1988').
The diktat for this massacre and ethnic cleansing of rural regions of the Riyasat (viz. princely state of Jammu & Kashmir) came from a youthful Sheikh Abdullah who was desperately trying to create space for himself in the politics of his home State. This massacre gave him an impressive head start in the Riyasat as against most other established Muslim leaders.
Mitter’s second exile came on November 23 in 1947 when Islamic tribal invaders, instigated and joined by the Pakistani Army, attacked and occupied Mirpur. The 'lucky' ones included Lala Mukand Lal's family which managed to escape leaving behind their home, property, a 14-year old daughter and, of course, a newly born Islamic state that Pakistan later re-christened as “Azad Kashmir”.
Abdullah's Communal Game
But Mitter’s third exile, which came only a few months after their arrival in Jammu, was the worst thing to happen to Lala Mukund Lal and those thousands of other Hindus and Sikhs who survived the massacre. Sheikh Abdullah, who had been virtually given unhindered charge of the State as its new 'Prime Minister' by the Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, systematically created conditions which finally led to an unceremonious packing off of most of these refugees to the neighboring Punjab. They also included most of refugees from Muzaffarabad who had escaped from a massacre, which was worse than the one at Mirpur.
People with no Identity
As Lala Mukand Lal and his family was being exiled from his home state third time in his life time, he was left with no worldly assets to carry with him — not even self respect, self-confidence or hope. The official records of J&K or the Central Government till this day refuse to bestow on him or any other member of his surviving community even the legal label of a 'refugee', not to speak of any rights or compensations that were given to other victims of the national partition from Western Punjab or East Bengal.
Aparthied through a ‘Manipulated Majority'
Thanks to 24 Assembly seats lying perpetually vacant, the manipulated majority of Kashmir Valley has led to many instances when the State Assembly passed laws that are absolutely out of tune with the spirit of Indian democratic values, or even with basic human rights as acknowledged world over. For example, in order to perpetuate 'Kashmiriyat' on the overall character of the State of J&K, the State government has enacted a unique law which prohibits the women citizens of the state from marrying someone from another state of India. In such a case, the woman automatically loses all benefits that are due to an ordinary citizen of the State. These include right to government jobs, admission to government run educational institutions, and even the right to her share in her ancestral property in the State. This law automatically writes off whatever was remaining of the remote chances of getting justice for PoK families settled in rest of India.
Dr Farooq Abdullah, who took over the reins of the State and his (National Conference) party following the death of his father, the Sheikh Abdullah, got this 'Resettlement Bill' converted into a law in 1982 by passing it again in the State Assembly despite opposition from the rest of India.
Need to Register Pok Refugees
But in sharp contrast, the same State Government has a completely opposite approach on the rights of migrated refugees from PoK and their families (who incidentally are either Hindus or Sikhs). The total number of this community is past a million today. Having been deprived of their identity as 'State Subjects' of J&K, the state laws prohibit this community from returning, settling back or buying property in their home state.
As the election days are approaching closer, hopes of Mitter and people of his age group have started taking new flights. His greatest wish these days is to see that before he passes into his next life, his children, grand children and great grand children should back the identity which was snatched away from him 67 years ago. His grand and great grand children love him. But having lived over 500 km away from his dreamland, they don't have any memory to lean on to share his hopes or enthusiasm.
Vijay Kranti (The writer is a senior journalist who works on Tibet and China related issues)