The Stateless West Pakistani Refugees

The Stateless West Pakistani Refugees

26 December 2013
Kashmir Times
Gulzar Bhat

Jammu: In the immediate vicinity of Vijaypur Jammu, a 12x12 room with a wooden table laden with a mountain of files, few plastic chairs, a couple of cabinets and a squeaky ceiling fan spinning slowly moving a scanty amount of air makes the office of Labha Ram Gandhi, President West Pakistani Refugee Action Committee 1947. Every day scores of west Pakistani refugees with a wide range of issues make a beeline for his office. After attaining superannuation from Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry as Hawaldar, septuagenarian Labha Ram Gandhi devoted himself to the cause of west Pakistani refugees who migrated to Jammu during the melee of 1947. 'Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Since I myself am a refugee I can best understand their agony and arrant misfortune. Although I am not any power-wielding man but I do work my heart out to get some of their small issues resolved by making frequent pleas to authorities,' says Labha Ram Around 21,000 families, 90% Hindus and 10% Sikhs, mostly belong to depressed classes migrated en masse from West Pakistan in the wake of 1947 are living in sheer deplorable state across the Jammu region. After more than 65 years of their migration they are still bereft of the civil and political rights making their living conditions exacerbated. This large chunk of refugee population is denied rights in a plethora of matters including elections to state assembly and panchayats; recruitment in the state government services and acquisition of immovable property owing to special constitutional status granted to state under Article 370 Section 6 of this article recognizes only those people as permanent citizens of state whose ancestors lived in the state of Jammu and Kashmir for a minimum period of 10 years till May 14, 1954. 'As we are not recognized as state subjects of this state, Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC), which is an important document making a person eligible for getting a government job or owning immovable property and availing other benefits in the state, is not issued to us,' says Labha Ram. Since west Pakistani Refugees cannot acquire immovable property, they are deprived of the 'absolute rights' on the land allotted to them by government under cabinet order No. 578-C of 1954 in the wake of their migration and thus they cannot sell it or mortgage it for the purpose of loan . For them seeking admission in government technical colleges or making a ration card is quite an uphill task as in both the cases Permanent Residence Certificate(PRC) is a 'must produce' document. 'Every day scores of people from different refugee localities visit my office with issues like denial of admissions to students in technical colleges, reluctance of authorities in issuing ration cards and so on,' says Labha Ram. Although Ministry of Human Resource Development has issued directions to state government vide letter no F21-68-2008-TS dated August 27, 2008 to make necessary provisions for granting certain concessions including waiving of domicile requirements in providing admission to the children of West Pakistani refugee settled in Jammu and Kashmir, the concerned authorities, what they complain, are quite contemptuous of such directions. Eighty year old Dev Raj gets dewy eyed and reminds of Bhishan Singh, the protagonist of Saadat Hassan Manto's much acclaimed 'Toba Tek Singh' when he asked about his national identity. 'In 1947 I was just 15 when we fled our native town Shakarpur (now in Pakistan) Sixty five years passed since but I did not find the identity I had in Shakarpur. Here we are the lost and rightless citizens of world's largest democracy,' says Dev Raj. Echoing, more or less, the same views, Daya Ram another octogenarian west Pakistani refugee adds that before death he wants to see his fore finger stained with indelible election ink at least once during the assembly elections. It is worth mentioning here that west Pakistani refugees have approximately fifty thousand votes divided among fifteen assembly constituencies which are not being polled during the state legislative elections owing to their non voting right. Most of the West Pakistani youth are unemployed vegetating at home and that has put a deleterious effect on their psychological well being and triggering a feeling of alienation amongst them. Dr Sapna K .Sangra, Assistant Professor Department of Sociology, Jammu University says, 'It has been seen that the problem of unemployment among displaced persons are affecting their psychological health. Alcholism is very common among them and as they know they can't get employment in state government, they are hardly motivated to study beyond high school level.' A few refugee families by offering kickbacks to revenue officials have managed to get Permanent Residence Certificates (PRC's) but they too are reeling under constant fear as, what haunts them, a mere compliant could land them in adversity. A graduate demure west Pakistani refugee woman, pleading anonymity, concedes that after going through a cumbersome process she managed to obtain Permanent Residence Certificate with the hope of getting a government job in future. Otherwise, she believes, the years of toil she did on her studies will go down to drain. But meanwhile she fears this devious means may land her in trouble. In the year 2007 Ghulam Nabi Azad, the then Chief Minister of state constituted a committee under G D Wadhwa to look into the problems concerning refugees. The committee made certain recommendations in their favour but these have hardly been implemented till date. A writ petition vide no 7698 of 1982 was filed by Advocate Bachan Lal on behalf of West Pakistani Refugee with the Supreme Court seeking redressal of the grievances confronting them in the state. The apex court in its verdict on 20th February 1987 expressed helplessness to provide any relief. However, it observed that it was up to the state assembly to take action to amend certain legislations like Jammu and Kashmir Representation of Peoples Act, the Land Alienation Act, the village Panchayat Act etc. 'From the legal point of view amendments in the existing legislations are quite possible but only if our legislators think above their party lines,' says Advocate Bachan Lal Kalgotra.