The West Pakistani Refugees can rest at ease now as the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir has clearly shown that it is committed to doing what it promised in the Agenda for Alliance (AFA). This agenda, nothing less than a holy grail, was released immediately after the PDP-BJP coalition government was formed in the state.
The meeting that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with a delegation of West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee (WPRAC) in Delhi on May 7 shows how seriously the BJP is taking this agenda. PM Modi promised the WPRAC delegation to do all his government could for these hapless refugees immediately.
That impression is reinforced further when we take into account the fact that the BJP chief, Amit Shah, had met this delegation only a day earlier. Not only that, Shah also set a deadline of six months for solving the problems of these people.
In fact, after the meeting with Shah, the delegation was asked to extend its stay in Delhi as the PM wanted to meet it. The PM sparing some time for the delegation at such a short notice in itself pleasantly surprised the delegation members.
Labha Ram Gandhi, leader of the West Pakistan refugees and Chairman of WPRAC who had led a six-member delegation to Delhi, said that they would now wait and watch. Now that the PM Modi and Shah have decided to help them, something good will emerge from the interaction soon, he hoped.
It is interesting to know why these people are called West Pakistani refugees. What are Pakistanis doing in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in the first place? Meeting Modi and Shah?
Well, in 1947, at the time of Independence, chaos prevailed all around as communal riots broke out in the two parts of Punjab, east and west. The former part was to stay with India, and the latter was to become a part of the newly emerged nation state of Pakistan.
The West Pakistani refugees are those Hindus and Sikhs who had run away from West Punjab marauders and moved to contiguous areas of J&K. To save their lives from the Muslim killers in places like Sialkot, and elsewhere, they came to parts of J&K which had a Hindu majority.
It is an irony that these people have been living where they are presently, right since 1947, yet they have not been given citizenship by successive state governments. Of course, they are citizens of the country, India, but not of the state of J&K which makes them, in a way, stateless.
Does it not constitute a violation of their human rights? Yes, it is indeed a grave Human Rights violation. However, the so-called champions of human rights have chosen to stay silent on the issue.
The hapless position, in which these refugees have been living, right since 1947, is pathetic. In fact, their legal status has not been decided yet even after so many years. The ruling parties in J&K have, till date, not deemed it essential as defining the legal status in itself raises many questions, rather than answers.
Shah has set a six-month deadline for the party to tackle the problems of the West Pakistani refugees. This is like an icing on the cake for the refugees who see an end to their woes at long last. Shah’s deadline and the PM’s meeting both show the BJP’s seriousness. Incidentally, the party has come to power in J&K for the first time. It is an unhealed wound since 1947, right from Independence itself.
The West Pakistani refugees are
citizens of our country, India, but not citizens of J&K. They had escaped carnage in the hope that they had left behind their worries. But their worries are still not over as they have never lived in peace till date.
They have remained settled in J&K for the last over 67 years, but still they have not been given citizenship. In whole of the world, there is not an example of people like them facing statelessness. So, they have remained settlers or refugees all this while.
One of the basic Human Rights the United Nations defines is to give any and every person a citizenship in case of persecution at the hands of an adversary. But what about these people?
Do any UN-mandated human rights apply to them? Perhaps not judging by the wretched conditions and squalor they live in. And a vast majority of them, may be 75 per cent, are Scheduled Castes (SCs). The Central Government has launched many schemes for emancipation of the SCs. But these people are deprived of benefits of these schemes because the state government officials, so often, do not issue them the requisite caste certificates.
On February 20, 1987, the Supreme Court had delivered a judgment about these people. The apex court had then given some recommendations but till date, over 28 years later, the recommendations of the apex court have remained unheeded by successive state governments.
In the case titled Bachan Lal Kalgotra vs State of Jammu and Kashmir and others, the apex court had remarked: The petitioner and those like him have a justifiable grievance. They have very anomalous rights within the State.
Though citizens of India and entitled to the various fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, they are not in a position to enjoy many of those rights within that State in which they are domiciled for nearly 40 years. In view of the peculiar constitutional position obtaining in the State, it is up to the legislature of the State to take action to suitably amend legislations, and for the State Government to amend Service Rules and issue appropriate executive instructions to make these persons eligible to exercise greater rights of citizenship.
It further said: Surely they are entitled to expect to be protected by the State. In the peculiar context of the State, the Union of India also owes an obligation to make some provision for the advancement of the cultural, economic and educational rights of these persons. We do hope that the claims of persons like the petitioner and others to exercise greater rights of citizenship will receive due consideration from the Union of India and the State.
It looks like the time for due consideration has finally arrived now. The PM has promised them that the Centre will do all that it could on its own, to act immediately, without waiting for the state government’s help.
In the past too, PMs have met the West Pakistan refugees and promised the moon to them. But virtually with no result and the promises remained just that: Mere promises, never fulfilled.
When the Supreme Court delivered its verdict in 1987, it had said that all that can be done for these people without first amending the J&K Constitution, must be done. It had suggested an amendment in the state Panchayati Raj Act to make these people eligible for voting in panchayats. Nothing has happened on this score.
It had suggested that they be given jobs in the state services by amending the state’s recruitment laws. Again, nothing has been done. These are just two examples of how successive state governments have chosen to ignore the Supreme Court directions.
With the PM Modi and Shah promising to do something for these refugees, some problems of these people will indeed be solved soon.
Sant Kumar Sharma (The writer is a Jammu based freelance journalist)