Regional Divide Comes To The Fore Over Proposal For West Pak Refugees

14 January 2015
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Dinesh Manhotra

Jammu: The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) recommendation to grant state citizenship rights to the West Pakistani Refugees has created a regional divide in J&K as political and social groups as well as the civil society of the Jammu region have hailed the 'historic' proposal. In contrast, Kashmir-centric political parties as well as all separatists groups have been up in arms against granting democratic and fundamental rights to these refugees, a majority of whom are Dalits. The JPC has given its recommendations at a juncture when the fractured mandate in the recent Assembly elections brought to the fore the division between the Jammu and Kashmir regions. The issue of West Pakistan refugees has only deepened this division. The BJP, Panthers Party and the BSP have demanded that the JPC recommendation should be implemented immediately to minimise the miseries of the refugees who have been struggling to get the basic fundamental rights since 1947. Now, the Congress too echoes the stand taken by the BJP on the issue. 'What message are the Kashmir-centric parties giving to the world by opposing the proposal to grant basic rights to the helpless people who have been living in J&K since 1947?' asked former Congress Working Committee member and head of the Dogra Sadar Sabha Gulchain Singh Charak. Spokesman of the J&K Pradesh Congress Committee Ravinder Sharma said his party had always supported the cause of West Pakistan refugees. In a veiled attack on those who were opposing citizenship rights to these refugees, Sharma said: 'Unfortunately, some groups are trying to politicise the issue.' Ridiculing those who have launched a campaign in the Valley against granting citizenship rights to West Pakistan refugees, expert on J&K affairs Daya Sagar argued that it was Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution and not Article 370 that provided grounds for depriving citizenship right to the refugees. 'The issue is not about granting citizenship rights to the 1947 West Pakistan refugees, it is about granting 'permanent resident of J&K status' to these refugees residing in J&K. West Pakistan refugees are already citizens of India like any other resident of J&K. Those who are equating the term 'permanent resident of J&K' with citizenship have malicious designs.' Taking a dig at some groups in the Valley for spreading the propaganda that granting citizenship rights to the refugees would dilute Article 370, Dr Gopal Parthasarthi Sharma, convener of the Public Opinion Forum, said: 'The basic structure of the Indian Constitution was subverted in May 1954 when Article 35-A was incorporated in it, depriving all Indian citizens, including refugees from West Pakistan settled in Jammu province, of the right to exercise all their fundamental rights in the state. Sharma asserted that 'it was Article 35-A, not Article 370 that enabled the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly to deny permanent resident status to the refugees from West Pakistan and all other Indians'. 'Armed with absolute power, the Jammu & Kashmir Constituent Assembly adopted Section 6 which said no persons who had crossed over to the state after May 1944 would be considered eligible for state citizenship rights,' he added.