Jammu: It's a trauma
that has lingered for 65 years. Some 2,000-3,000 Hindu families
had migrated to Jammu and Kashmir from West Pakistan when the
sub-continent was partitioned in 1947. Many of the elders have
died, but their descendants, who have swelled to 200,000, are yet
to get citizenship rights because the state's constitution does
not permit this.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured them some four years ago
that he would have their case examined. In spite of this and
despite petitions in the Supreme Court and the state high court,
there has been no movement forward.
Sixty-year-old Mela Ram Bhagat put it poignantly: "Manmohan Singh
is also a refugee but he has become the prime minister. We are
still where we are."
The villian of the piece, as it were, is article 370 of the Indian
constitution by virtue of which Jammu and Kashmir has a special
status. Those originally from the state have citizenship rights
and are called state subjects. These state subjects can own
property, get government jobs, free higher education and the like.
This is not so for the refugees as their ancestors were not
original residents of the state. Thus, even though they have
access to government healthcare they don't have the rights of the
other citizens. Curiously enough, they can vote in the Lok Sabha
elections but not in the state assembly elections.
They are not even entitled to ration cards, as a result of which
they have to buy their provisions from the open market. This is
quite a tall order as most of the refugees are daily wagers and
barely manage to eke out a living. The others run small shops, tea
stalls and the like.
The original families had realised way back in 1947 what they were
in for and wanted to shift to neighbouring Punjab but were
disuaded from doing so by then chief minister Sheikh Mohammad
Abdullah, who assured them of justice.
"We do feel bad about this, but what can we do now? At the time of
partition even some of us wanted to shift to Punjab from Digiana
(on Jammu's outskirts) but Sheikh sahib (Abdullah) promised that
we will get all rights. Now we are children of no where and no
one," Bhagat lamented.
"Although we are human beings, yet we are living the life of an
animal. This is our fourth generation here. But still we are
aliens here," added Bhagat, who lives with his family in a mud
house in the Niki Tawi area on the western outskirts of Jammu. The
small house is on a rented piece of land as the refugees cannot
buy property in Jammu and Kashmir.
"The worst part is that we are not even entitled to government
scholarships. They (the school authorities) ask for a state
subject certificate if we want to pursue higher education. And we
cannot pay for private education. We are three sisters and a
brother and our father is a labourer. What do we do?" Sunita Rani,
17, who just finished her Class 10, asked while speaking to IANS,
tears in her eyes.
She wants to study further but the situation does not permit her
to do so as one needs a state subject certificate to go beyond
Class 10. "I had a dream of becoming a teacher but now I have to
sit at home. But I am searching for a job so that at least I can
help my father in running the home."
Subash Chander, 45, envies his classmates, "I had to become a
labourer after doing my tenth class. But my class fellows, who
were state subjects, are in government jobs or are in police."
In all this, the politicians are fishing in troubled waters, says
Labha Ram Gandhi, a leader of the refugees.
"The Kashmir-centric political setup does not want to take this
decision in favour of us (refugees) living in Jammu as it would
amount to losing the Kashmiri vote bank. This has become a
political issue," Gandhi said.
Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla of the Congress speaks for the
political spectrum: "There is a technical problem in making them
state subjects as Article 370 does not permit this. But we are
thinking of via medias to provide them basic facilities."
(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at email@example.com)