Citizens Of India But Stateless In Kashmir

2 November 2014
The New Indian Express
Fayaz Wani

Jammu: In April 2014, 83-year-old Mela Ram Baghat enthusiastically exercised his right to vote at one of the polling booths in Jammu like he has been doing in all previous Lok Sabha elections as an Indian citizen. But in the coming Assembly elections to be held from November 25 for the 87-member J&K Legislature, he cannot vote. He is prevented by state law since the first elections happened in 1951, because he is considered stateless. He is one of 1.5 lakh refugees who crossed the border into Kashmir from West Pakistan after communal riots erupted in 1947. 'We are not state subjects, so we can't vote in the state elections,' says Mela Ram. Kashmir has a tragic knack for creating refugees without recompense, whether they are Kashmiri Pandits who fled Kashmir or Hindus and Sikhs like Mela Ram who fled into Kashmir. The November elections in J&K could be highly polarized, and the BJP plans to make the plight of Mela Ram and his compatriots a prominent part of its election manifesto. Omar's government and ally Congress are worried. Also Read: 'We Have High Hopes from the Modi Government' BJP's Jammu & Kashmir in-charge, Avinash Rai Khanna says, 'There are more than one lakh people in J&K who are called West Pakistani refugees. They cannot vote even in elections held for municipalities and panchayats. Our agenda is to give them the right to vote in all elections and to remove the tag of 'West Pakistani' and 'refugee'. It is a blatant human rights violation,' he adds. However, opposed to the BJP are the National Conference and the separatists. 'They are not citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and as such can't be given state subject status,' says Mustafa Kamal, senior National Conference leader and uncle of J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. The separatists vow to 'fight tooth and nail any attempt to change the demography of the state.' The Congress, which has been partner of coalition governments in the state in the last 12 years blame coalition compulsions for being unable to help the stateless people of Kashmir. Senior Congress leader and former Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla says, 'There are compulsions in a coalition government and so we could not do anything'. The spokesman of J&K Congress, Ravindra Sharma echoes Bhalla. 'The UPA government was ready to lend them financial support. But there were divisions in J&K government due to coalition compulsions.' The PDP favours granting of all amenities to refugees . All this rhetoric and excuses are no consolation for the over 25,000 families from West Pakistan comprising about 1.5 lakh souls, who have been living in the border areas of Jammu since 1947.