Uncertainty dogs Hindu refugees from Pakistan

March 4th, 2008 - 11:31 am ICT by admin  

By Binoo Joshi
Jammu, March 4 (IANS) Over 50,000 Hindu families who fled Pakistan to escape the 1947 partition violence have spent over 60 years in Jammu and Kashmir - but they are still widely seen as “outsiders”. Frustrated, and upset with the authorities for not bailing them out, many today say they would have been better off dead.

“At least there would have been no worries about status and future,” says Labha Ram, who heads a body of refugees from Pakistan.

Although the displaced people are deemed to be citizens of India, their only right is to vote during parliament elections. But they cannot vote during state elections.

“Attempts to enrol our children in government schools, professional institutions or get them other jobs result in questions of our place of birth and permanent residents’ certificate, a basic requirement in Jammu and Kashmir, which we do not possess,” Ram said.

This also means that the refugees, as they are classified, cannot buy real estate in Jammu and Kashmir, a state governed by article 370 of the constitution that prohibits “outsiders” from owning property.

The issue has been compounded by the state government’s failure to confer the basic citizenship rights to these refugees from Pakistan. Their belonging to the Hindu religion has seemingly worsened the situation.

The main political parties in the state, including the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress are wary of campaigning for their rights, fearing a possible backlash because granting them citizenship has the potential to change the demographic character of the Kashmir Valley where Muslims are in a majority.

“It is indeed a sensitive, humanitarian issue. But we cannot allow outsiders to undermine the (position of the) natives of the state,” says National Conference leader Abdul Rahim Rather.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who leads the Congress-PDP government in the state, had hinted at the possibility of issuing domicile certificates to the refugees.

The promise is yet to translate into reality, thanks to stiff opposition by other political groups.

The state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticises the central and state governments over their plight.

“The Kashmiri leadership has been trampling upon the rights of (Hindu) refugees from Pakistan for over 60 years,” fumes Ashok Khajuria, the BJP state president.

This only results in sneers from the refugees.

“We have heard this umpteen times. The (politicians) only want our votes in parliamentary elections, nothing more,” concludes Ram Lubaya, another refugee.

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