Jammu and Kashmir: Identity certificates for Pakistani refugees cause communal rift

The decision of the Jammu and Kashmir state government to issue identity certificates to thousands of refugees from Pakistan (who are settled in Jammu and Kashmir since Partition in 1947) to help them get jobs in Central government departments has divided the state on communal lines.

While the Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir has objected to the move, which is seen by it as a ploy to settle down non-state subjects in Jammu and Kashmir to tilt the vote in favour of India on the event of any referendum on Kashmir, the National Conference has accused the PDP-BJP government of undermining the state subject laws. However, even as the PDP has chosen to stay away from the controversy stating that identity certificates will not confer state subject rights on West Pakistani refugees, BJP has demanded that refugees need to be given the rights to enable them to get jobs in the state.

 Jammu and Kashmir: Identity certificates for Pakistani refugees cause communal rift

File image of Mehbooba Mufti and Rajnath Singh. PTI

Both the PDP and NC are trying to protect their respective votebanks in Kashmir, which remains a predominantly Muslim area, while the BJP is seeking to secure the large Hindu vote from the Jammu region. As per government figures, there are around 5,764 families who migrated from the then West Pakistan and are now living mainly in the Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri districts of Jammu division. The West Pakistan Refugee Action Committee (WPRAC) has said that the number has now soared to 19,960 families comprising of near one lakh people, mostly Hindus and Sikhs. It was during the partition of Punjab in 1947 that Hindus and Sikhs fled Pakistan, and Muslims went from India to Pakistan.

The issue of granting any state subject rights to West Pakistani refugees has, however, not only divided the state on regional and religious lines, but has the potential to spur the ongoing unrest in Kashmir. Although the separatists have provided a relaxation to the shutdown for five days a week, they lodged protests against the government's decision to issue identity certificates to refugees and a recent decision of the Supreme Court to extend the SARFESI Act to the state. Some legal experts have argued that the extension of the SARFESI Act to the state will enable external banks to take the ownership of the properties of local people in lieu of their due loans, which will violate the state subject laws.

On the move towards conferring state subject rights to West Pakistani refugees, separatists have termed it as against the interests of Kashmiri Muslims. "By settling refugees in Jammu and Kashmir, the historical and political reality of the Jammu and Kashmir will get jeopardised," the statement said. The NC has toed a somewhat similar line stating that the PDP-BJP coalition "is working against the interest of majority Muslims".

The National Panthers Party that corners a sizable amount of support in the Jammu region, has however accused the BJP of succumbing to the "pressure of separatist forces of Kashmir". The Panther Party's leader Harsh Dev Singh said that the "refugees of West Pakistan who had taken shelter in Jammu and Kashmir have been left in the lurch for the last 70 years or so". He added, "The refugees are living in plight as they have not been granted PRCs, employment and other benefits."

However, even as PDP leader and minister for education Naeem Akhtar has clarified that "an orchestrated and misleading campaign has been launched to create an impression that the government is changing the status of West Pakistani Refugees and they are being provided domicile certificates", BJP leaders said that they are committed to providing the state subject rights to refugees. Senior BJP leader and party MLA from Samba, Devindar Manyal, in whose constituency a large number of West Pakistani Refugees live, said that the party was committed to safeguarding the rights of the people.

File image of Omar Abdullah. PTI

File image of Omar Abdullah. PTI

"We are in favour of granting refugees ownership rights. The BJP government both at the state and the Centre is committed to providing them the rights. We are in favour of giving them permanent resident certificates (PRCs)," said Manyal. Meanwhile, senior BJP leader and minister of state for relief and rehabilitation Ajay Nanda said that West Pakistani Refugees should have been granted state subject rights. "They have been settled in Jammu and Kashmir for a long time, but can’t get government jobs or vote in the Assembly elections, which is discriminatory," he said.

President of the WPRAC, Labha Ram Gandhi, said that they had earlier brought to the notice of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh the fact that they are not getting state subject rights that deprive them of state government jobs. "An unnecessary controversy has been created over issuing identity certificates to us. These certificates only mention that we have come from Pakistan after 1947 and these have been issued for the past four months. These certificates are necessary for us to get government jobs," said Gandhi.

However, even as the Ministry of Home Affairs had earlier directed that the voter ID cards that are used by the West Pakistani Refugees to cast the ballot in the parliamentary elections should be used as proof of identity for Central jobs, the state government has stoked a fresh controversy by issuing new identity cards to refugees for getting jobs in Central government departments, especially the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs).

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Updated Date: Dec 26, 2016 13:44:42 IST