It is unfortunate that the plight of a small group of people displaced during Partition should have become the trigger for the latest bout of sparring among politicians in Jammu & Kashmir along regional and religious lines. The Kashmiri separatist leadership and other Valley politicians who are crying foul at a move by the state government to issue “identity certificates” to these people do no credit to themselves. How is it better to say that a section of people, who have lived in J&K for 70 years now, may continue to stay on, but only without any civic rights, facing enormous hardships in their daily lives in order to access basic living facilities, education, banking facilities and employment? The Hindus and Sikhs who chose the shortest flight to safety from their homes in Pakistan to cross over into Jammu at a time of turmoil and carnage in 1947 have been punished enough over three generations for that decision.
As residents of pre-Partition Punjab, they are ineligible for “permanent residency” in J&K, which is governed by a complex set of rules under state laws. West Pakistan refugees do not have the right to buy land in the state, or to jobs in the state government. Nor do they have the right to seats in J&K institutes of higher technical education. They cannot vote in elections to the state assembly or a local body, nor can they stand in these elections as candidates. The West Pakistan Refugee Action Committee estimates there are over 19,000 affected families. The PDP-BJP government is doing nothing more than issuing them domicile certificates, recommended as long ago as 2007 by the Wadhwa Committee in response to a demand by these people that they needed something with which to establish identity proof. The cry for the measure to be rolled back is shabby, given the special circumstances in which these people arrived in Jammu and have stayed on, in conditions that have not improved.
Those arguing that this is part of a BJP plan to change the demography of J&K must keep in mind that no law of the state has been changed. Predictably, the separatist leadership has pounced on the issue to restart the agitation that kept Kashmir on the boil for five months this year. The BJP leadership in the state has responded by raking up the refuge given to the Rohingyas of Myanmar in Jammu.
There is no comparison between the two. The Rohingyas are “stateless”, having been denied citizenship of the country in which they have lived for centuries. The “West Pakistanis” in Jammu do have Indian citizenship. Using one against the other is not the best way to find a resolution to the problem, and can only deepen the communal divide in the state.