Why Modi Government Should Grant J&K Citizenship Rights To Hindu And Sikh Refugees

Why Modi Government Should Grant J&K Citizenship Rights To Hindu And Sikh Refugees

by Hari Om Mahajan - Thursday, September 22, 2016 09:57 AM IST
Why Modi Government Should Grant J&K Citizenship Rights To Hindu And Sikh RefugeesPrime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the inauguration ceremony at Katra railway station, 45 km from Jammu. Photo credit: STR/AFP/GettyImages
  • The refugees, who have long suffered government apathy, rest their hopes on Narendra Modi Government to provide them with citizenship rights of Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian academic and writer Madhu Purnima Kishwar discussed many issues in her comprehensive essay on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), titled ‘Of Article 370, Plebiscite & Hindu Refugees of POJ&K Flogging Dead Horses And Ignoring Live Issues’ (13 September). I will ignore all and focus on one: citizenship rights for the Hindu refugees from Pakistan-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJ&K). There is a specific reason for that.

Jammu province, especially the districts of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Rajouri, houses about two million refugees, all Hindus and Sikhs. About one-and-a-half million are from POJ&K, approximately two lakh from West Pakistan and nearly three lakh from the Kashmir Valley. Refugees from POJ&K and West Pakistan migrated to Jammu in 1947-1948 to escape their physical liquidation and save their honour, religion and culture. As for the minuscule minority of Kashmiri Hindus, they quit their land of Vitasta (Jhelum) in January 1990. The reasons were the same. They had three options to exercise – conversion, support the anti-India movement in Kashmir or exodus. They exercised the third option.

As far as the refugees from POJ&K were concerned, they included not only the Hindus but also the Sikhs. The Hindus straightaway migrated to Jammu. The Sikhs from Muzaffarabad, the capital of the so-called Azad Kashmir, did try to migrate to Kashmir province – of which they were the residents – but the National Conference and its leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, who had the full backing of the then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, didn’t allow Sikhs to settle anywhere in the Valley. They also migrated to Jammu. Most of them made Jammu and Kathua districts their new abodes.

 Nehru and Abdullah at a Constituent Assembly meeting. Photo credit: WikiMedia Commons 
Nehru and Abdullah at a Constituent Assembly meeting. Photo credit: WikiMedia Commons 

Kishwar in her article batted for giving citizenship rights to the refugees from PoJ&K. She said:

While there is so much jingoistic fervour around the abrogation of Article 370, which is actually an empty shell, there is comparatively very low awareness of and concern for a much more important and easily doable issue – giving citizenship rights to Hindus who came to the Jammu region as uprooted refugees from Pakistan-Occupied Areas of Jammu & Kashmir in 1947.  

She also said:

It has been 70 years now since they sought refuge in India after being driven out at the time of Partition, but the successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir have steadfastly refused to treat them as subjects of the state with equal rights vis-à-vis other citizens. They have Indian citizenship but are not counted as Jammu and Kashmir subjects. As a result, they live marginalised and insecure lives, are not allowed to buy and own property in Jammu and Kashmir, nor are they entitled to admission in educational institutions or hold jobs in government that are reserved for state subjects. They can’t even get ration cards and other benefits available to Jammu and Kashmir citizens.

It needs to be underlined that the refugees from POJ&K were citizens of Jammu and Kashmir when they migrated from their original habitat to Jammu and they have been exercising, as “permanent residents” of the state, all the rights which are available to all the “permanent residents” of the state. They are both citizens of India and citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. Yes, they have been protesting at regular intervals against the Jammu and Kashmir government and the Government of India, but not for obtaining “citizenship rights”. They have been struggling to get compensation for the properties they left behind in 1947-1948. They, like all other “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir, enjoy the right to have immovable property, right to job under the state government, right to higher education, right to bank loan and so on. Besides, they take part in the Lok Sabha, Assembly and local-body elections, like all other “permanent residents” of the state.

Similar is the political status of the hounded out Kashmiri Hindus. They enjoy all the rights. Leave aside the fact that the Jammu and Kashmir Government makes unjust, invidious and humiliating distinctions between the refugees from POJ&K – Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims – and accord preferential and differential treatment to the latter.

It is the refugees from West Pakistan (all Hindus and mostly Dalits), who do not enjoy any of the citizenship rights which are available to the “permanent residents” of the state, including refugees from POJ&K and the Kashmir Valley. They are Indian citizens but not citizens of the state. They are leading a wretched life in Jammu. They have been struggling hard since 1947-1948 to obtain citizenship rights, but with no result.

These hapless and abandoned refugees have held numerous demonstrations in Jammu and Delhi, organised long marches, courted arrest and exhausted all constitutional methods of agitation to obtain citizenship rights. Faced with official apathy, they even approached the Supreme Court in 1982, but failed to obtain justice because Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Disposing of the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 7698 of 1982 on February 20, 1987, the Supreme Court said it was “unable to give any relief to the petitioner”.

The operative part of the judgement reads:

In view of the peculiar constitutional position obtaining in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, we do not see what possible relief we can give to the petitioner and those situated like him. All that we can say is that the position of the petitioner and those like him is anomalous and it is up to the legislature of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to take action to amend legislations such as the Jammu and Kashmir Representative of the People Act, 1957, the Land Alienation Act, the Village Panchayat Act, etc so as to make persons like the petitioner who have migrated from West Pakistan in 1947 and who have settled down in the State of Jammu and Kashmir since then, eligible to be included in the electoral roll, to acquire land, to be elected to the panchayats, etc etc. This can be done by suitably amending the legislations without having to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution.

The operative part further reads:

The petitioners have a justifiable grievance. Surely they are entitled to expect to be protected by the State of Jammu and Kashmir. In the peculiar context of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Union of India also owes an obligation to make some provisions for the advancement of the cultural, economic and educational rights of these persons. We do hope that the claims of the persons like the petitioner (Bachan Lal) and others to exercise greater rights of citizenship will receive due consideration from the Union of India and the State of Jammu and Kashmir. We are, however, unable to give any relief to the petitioner.

Though the Supreme Court did not give any relief to the petitioner, it did suggest ways and means of redressing the grievances of the refugees, but with no result. Neither the State nor the Union Government thought it advisable to act on the suggestions as contained in the judgement for obvious reasons, the most important being the oft-repeated argument of Kashmiri leadership that granting citizenship rights to the refugees would mean a change in the state’s demographic profile, erosion of its autonomous status and alienation of Kashmiri Muslims from India. Expectedly, the Union Government sided with the Kashmiri leadership overlooking the human angle. That attitude persists even today.

It may appear unbelievable, but it is a fact that the Sheikh Abdullah-led Government in the state granted citizenship rights to numerous Uyghur Muslim families in 1952 and settled them in the Eidgah area of Srinagar with full citizenship rights. The Uyghur Muslims migrated from Xinjiang province of China to escape Communist Beijing’s wrath.

Similarly, the Government of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, which replaced the Sheikh Abdullah Government in August 1953, also accorded similar treatment to the Tibetan Muslims who migrated to Kashmir in 1959 in the wake of the Chinese annexation of Tibet. They were also settled in the same locality with full citizenship rights. Tibet’s leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, along with thousands of Tibetans, also migrated to India in 1959.

It is hoped the Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi would undo the past wrongs and grant citizenship rights to the refugee from West Pakistan. The 2014 BJP Vision Document for Jammu and Kashmir unambiguously says that the BJP, if voted to power in the state, shall grant all citizenship rights to them.

Hari Om Mahajan is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jammu.
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