Jammu, the refugee city of India (Part-I)May 3rd, 2011 - 1:09 pm ICT by ANI
By Smita Prakash
Jammu, May 3 (ANI): It is not a happy city. The winter capital of the strife-torn state of Jammu and Kashmir has too much angst to pass off as just another temple town of India, seeking to profit from tourists who come here either for pilgrimages or for its climate.
Spring is indeed beautiful in Jammu. The well manicured lawns in the up-market localities where huge houses owned by either serving or retired government employees have large blossoms and chirping birds. Traffic stops for police and army officers and senior politicians. There is an overpowering presence of government here.
I travel to the outskirts of the city, to Basti Chak Bhoopat, a hamlet occupied by Hindu refugees who fled from the newly formed country of Pakistan in 1947. There are about 20,000 ‘West Pakistanis’ as they call themselves, along the 200 odd kilometers of the Line of Control (LOC) in this region. They are the ‘nowhere people’ of Jammu and Kashmir.
The state does not give them a ‘Permanent Resident Certificate’ because they migrated from the Punjab province of the newly formed Pakistan in 1947. Geographically, a large part of Jammu sits cheek by jowl with the Punjab province of Pakistan.
This certificate is only given to those whose ancestors lived in the united Jammu and Kashmir state before 1954.
I met with several of the displaced persons who now are now second and third generation refugees. They live in abject poverty, and are not eligible for government jobs or even bank loans, as for all administrative purposes, they don’t exist! They occupied homes and lands vacated by Muslims who migrated to Pakistan. But they don’t possess any ownership papers so they can’t sell their property either.
Since they cannot vote for assembly or panchayat elections, they do not have any political representation in the state.
Labha Ram Gandhi, the president of the West Pakistan Refugee Association, says, “We have had two Prime Ministers who came to India as refugees from Pakistan. I.K. Gujral and Dr. Manmohan Singh. We have even had a deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani who came here as a refugee, but none of them have cared to help us. They mouth platitudes and assure us that yet another generation of ours, now the fourth, will not be bereft of their rights. But none have delivered so far.”
There is an ‘Anganwadi’ school in the village but kids drop out after a few years to help in farms. They have no hope of getting government jobs and the private sector is not an option that they can even consider.
A few miles away is the Bhour Camp where the ‘forgotten people’ live. They are the refugees who came in from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, mainly from Mirpur and Muzzafarabad. These Hindus and Sikhs came in 1947, 1965 and 1971 during the India-Pakistan wars, as they faced persecution in Pakistan. There are over 1,200,000 of the ‘forgotten people’ living in Jammu and neigbhouring areas with no defined political status.
They are subjects of an undivided Kashmir. And, the Government of India wants them to go back to Mirpur and Muzaffarabad one day, because technically India still considers those areas as a part of its own territory that is wrongfully in the hands of Pakistan.
The Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) refugees got little or no compensation, as they never could prove that they owned land and property in PoK, and they were not considered ‘refugees’ like the Punjabis who came during partition. Who are these people? Are they ‘refugees’, ‘migrants’, ‘displaced persons’ or ‘internally displaced persons’?
I spoke with Rajiv Chunni who runs the SoS, an organization that works for the restoration of rights of PoK refugees.
He says: “India is a member of the United Nations but like other countries in the subcontinent is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. But India doesn’t have even a domestic law to identify refugees.”
“And then, there is this unanimous Parliamentary resolution of 1994 that declared PoK as an integral part of India and that India will get it vacated. But how will it be vacated? Realistically it’s impossible,” he adds.
“It has never come up during the India-Pakistan talks. India should accept that Kashmir is the core issue of dispute, but not that Kashmir which is with India but that Kashmir over which you (Pakistan) have illegal control,” he says further.
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Tags: abject poverty, army officers, bank loans, chak, cheek by jowl, displaced persons, generation refugees, government jobs, jammu and kashmir, large blossoms, overpowering presence, pakistan in 1947, panchayat elections, political representation, punjab province, state of jammu and kashmir, temple town, traffic stops, west pakistan, winter capital