Refugee vs refugee, new flashpoint in J vs K

How politics around West Pakistan refugees and Rohingya Muslims is deepening existing faultlines in state

Written by Arun Sharma | Jammu | Updated: December 29, 2016 11:59 am
jammu, kashmir, jammu rufugees, kashmir refugees, west pakistan refugees, rohingya muslims, rohingya muslim refugees, j&K, J&K news, India news Hurriyat’s Mirwaiz Umar Farooq protests in Srinagar on December 23 against domicile certificates to West Pakistan refugees. (AP Photo)

Ever since the 2014 Assembly elections forced the PDP and BJP into a complicated political marriage in Jammu and Kashmir, tensions have erupted repeatedly over issues such as the location of an AIIMS for the state; protests at NIIT, Srinagar, after clashes between Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri students; and the proposals to set up Sainik and Pandit colonies in the Valley. The latest issues that are deepening the faultlines between Jammu and the Valley are the issuance of identity cards to Hindu refugees from West Pakistan, and the settlement of Muslim refugees from Myanmar in the state.

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What are the identity certificates that the J&K government has been issuing?

They have a picture of the holder along with his name and parentage, and certify that he became a refugee from an area now in Pakistan after Partition. The certificate, issued by a Naib Tehsildar, says that the holder was a resident of an area in undivided India that is now part of Pakistan, and that he is now living at a particular place in J&K as a refugee from (erstwhile) West Pakistan.

How many West Pakistan refugees currently live in India?

No recent figures are available. The 1951 Census counted 72,95,870 people who had moved to India from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan during Partition. Some 4.7 million of them were Hindus and Sikhs who came from West Pakistan. Except for 5,764 families, all settled in Punjab (including in the areas that later became the state of Haryana), Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and even Mumbai. While those who settled elsewhere became Indian citizens domiciled in the respective states, the 5,764 families who had arrived in Jammu from the adjoining Sialkot and Shakargarh areas of Pakistan were treated only as Indian citizens, and not as permanent residents of J&K. Nearly 70 years on, the number of these people has swollen to 19,760 families, 20 of whom are Muslim.

The refugees coming to J&K were treated differently from those who settled down elsewhere in accordance with Section 6 of the Constitution of the state: “Every person who is, or is deemed to be, a citizen of India under the provisions of the Constitution of India shall be permanent resident of the state, if on the 14th day of May 1954, (a) he was a state subject of Class I, or of Class II, or (b) having lawfully acquired immoveable property… has been ordinarily resident in the state for not less than 10 years…” The J&K Constitution of 1954 in this respect followed an order issued by the Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927, which defined the subjects of the state and divided them into 4 classes.

How does the issue of government identity certificates to refugees impact the situation?

Demands for permanent resident status to West Pakistan refugees probably started during and after the 1965 and 1971 wars, when many permanent residents were displaced from areas now controlled by Pakistan, and the state government, in order to settle them elsewhere, took back agricultural land from West Pakistan refugees. The literate among those who lost their lands eyed jobs in the central government, especially in the Army and paramilitary forces. There was no major problem until around 2000, but thereafter, in the context of militancy, all central government recruiting agencies started asking for domicile certificates in order to ascertain their place of residence. Because the refugees were not permanent residents of the state, they faced difficulty in establishing that they lived in areas of the Jammu region. Successive governments admitted that the West Pakistan refugee issue needed to be resolved — however, it was the PDP and BJP who, before forming their coalition, agreed in writing to work towards creating means of livelihood for these people. Though the identity certificates being issued to them by Naib Tehsildars do not confer upon them the status of permanent residents of J&K, they do give them an official address for the first time since they migrated to the state nearly 7 decades ago.

So why does this make many politicians in the Valley insecure?

Mainstream and separatist politicians in the Muslim-majority Valley have always seen the BJP-RSS demand for the abrogation of Article 370 (which guarantees special status to J&K) as a design to change the demography of Kashmir by settling Hindus from elsewhere. The issuance of identity certificates to West Pakistan refugees, who are overwhelmingly Hindu, is seen as the first step to granting them domicile status as part of a bigger plot to change the state’s demographic contours.

And who are the Rohingyas? How do they fit into these tensions?

Rohingyas are a roughly 1-million strong ethnic Muslim community in Myanmar, most of whom are denied citizenship rights as their government considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. A sizeable number have fled to India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand to escape persecution and violence. Some 40,000-50,000 Rohingyas are believed to be living in India, including nearly 7,000-8,000 in the Jammu region, which includes Jammu city and its outskirts. Many of them carry certificates issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Delhi. Members of the community mostly work as unskilled labourers in homes and private business establishments, as ragpickers, and even beg for a living. Some are masons and small-time vendors.

A large section of the population in Jammu believes the Rohingya population is actually larger. The belief that Kashmiri Muslims are taking away a major chunk of the state’s resources, including development funds and jobs, leads many in predominantly Hindu Jammu to look at the settlement of new Muslim families with resentment and suspicion. As with the West Pakistan refugees and the Muslim population in Kashmir, settlements of Rohingya Muslims coming up at various places in Jammu city — and the fact that some are now marrying locally — appear to many Hindus as a conspiracy to change the demography of the region.