27 Feb 2016 10:35:26

Rajeev K. Panday 

Nobody rememberes the plight of around three lac refugees from West Pakistan who are living sub-human life in Jammu & Kashmir even after 6 ½ decades of independence and whose pathetic condition continues to mock at not only the political leadership but also the intellectuals, media and legal fraternity which have turned a deaf ear towards the agonies and pains of these refugees. These refugees are mostly from the deprived sections and more than 80% of them belong to the Scheduled Castes.

Textbooks in schools and colleges proudly proclaim that unlike Pakistan, India i.e. Bharat adopted a secular constitution wherein there would be no discrimination against anyone on the only basis of religion, caste and creed.  It is a high time for the nation to retrospect and test the veracity of this tall claim – particularly when the Indian nation has completely and absolutely failed in its duty towards the hapless and helpless victims of partition who ought to have been the first ones to claim highest degree of attention, care and priority.

The manner in which Government of India under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru yielded to pressures from Shaikh Abdulla and his supporters and introduced Article 370 in the Constitution created an unprecedented citizenship of dual citizenship within the state of Jammu & Kashmir.  Millions of  families  from West Pakistan i.e. the provinces of West Punjab, Sind, North East Frontier Province and Baluchistan were forced to take refuge in India on account of religious persecution at the hands of fanatics. These refugee families came to various places including Mumbai, Delhi, Surat etc. and a number of welfare measures were initiated to rehabilitate them by affording houses, jobs and so on.  However the families that came to Jammu & Kashmir were denied the “citizenship of Jammu & Kashmir” on account of which they were rendered ineligible to cast their votes for the elections of the State Assembly.    They did not have a right to obtain a permanent residence certificate or to get a job in State Government. The children from the families of West-Pakistan refugees were denied admissions to schools and colleges aided by State Government. They were not entitled to scholarships and freeships available to “citizens of Jammu & Kashmir” as the permanent residence certificate was not accorded to them. They are not in a position to cast votes or to contest any election except Lok Sabha.  This has brought them down to the level of second class citizens as they have no role in law-making at the state level including laws relating to state taxation. They have no participation in local village panchayats and other self-rule bodies upto the District Level.

The worst deprivation and injustice was in the form of denial of the right to acquire landed property.  The Indian Constitution guarantees various fundamental rights for its citizens. Till the year 1978, the “Right to property” was one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution of India. The Forty-Forth Amendment of 1978 deleted the right to property from the list of fundamental rights.  A new provision, Article 300-A, was added to the constitution which provided that "no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law". Thus if a legislature makes a law depriving a person of his property, there would be no obligation on the part of the State to pay anything as compensation. The aggrieved person shall have no right to move the court under Article 32. Thus, the right to property is no longer a fundamental right, though it is still a legal right. If the government appears to have acted unfairly, the action can be challenged in a court of law by citizens.

The refugees from West Pakistan never enjoyed the comfort of the “right to property”.  From day one i.e. from the very enactment of the constitution together with Article 370 incorporated into the Constitution, these refugees had no right to acquire land. They could be tillers, labourers, tenants but not land-owners and land-lords.   When the Indian authorities at Central and State levels took a number of steps to rehabilitate even the nomadic tribes by allotting them lands on permanent ownership basis, nobody cared for these refugees from West Pakistan whose position is worse than the nomadic tribes. 

These refugees from West Pakistan are living the life equivalent to bonded labourers and slaves who are denied not only a right to social security and building up for the future but even the basis right required for a life with human dignity that pre-supposes a sense of safety and permanence of abode. They are living under shadow of uncertainty and anxiety reducing them to sub-humans. They were the victims of Partition on the basis of religion though they were not in any manner responsible for any decision on partition. They have to take a refugee in Jammu & Kashmir on account of religious persecution. It is an irony that the constitution of Pakistan – though it came into effect after their fleeing Pakistan- allowed them to buy landed property/house in any part of Pakistan and it is the Indian constitution that prevents them from owning the houses which they occupy in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

The right to dignified living is a basic human right. The refugees from West Pakistan have been denied this right. The Constitution provided for Article 370 as a purely temporary measure. Today there is no whisper about revoking this Article by amending the Constitution. Instead, the Central Government appointed interlocutors have given a report to perpetuate Article 370 in the guise of so-called autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir.

When will the Indian nation hear the woes and cries of the refugees from West Pakistan?

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