An Uncertain Refuge

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Three lakh refugees left their homes behind only to find they have restricted rights in J&K

Text and photographs by Shailendra Pandey

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IT IS STRANGE BUT TRUE. Sixty-five years after Partition, 3,00,000 refugees are mired in the limbo of that exodus. Three waves of modern-day migrants have sought shelter in Jammu & Kashmir. The first arrived in August 1947 from what was then West Pakistan. In October 1947, when tribals, aided by the Pakistan Army, attacked Kashmir, another wave of refugees came from what is now known as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). And after the 1965 and 1971 wars, villagers evacuated from the Chhamb region made J&K their home.

Though they are all citizens of India, they’re not all citizens of J&K. While those from PoK were granted full citizenship rights, those who arrived from the provinces of Pakistan were denied the same. As per Article 370, which confers special status to J&K, the state cannot grant citizenship rights to anyone who is not a permanent resident, either from the rest of India or Pakistan, other than PoK. Thus, these refugees can vote in Lok Sabha elections, but not in the state Assembly polls. They cannot buy property where they live.

Article 370 is not the sole justification. The context of each wave of migration matters. While communal riots in Pakistan drove Hindus to India, including the Indian part of J&K, the simultaneous violence in Jammu forced Muslims to migrate to Pakistan and PoK. The demographics of these migrations add a dimension of political sensitivity.

The majority Muslim population fears that granting citizenship rights to Hindu refugees from Pakistan will alter the balance in favour of the minority. The Hindu minority vehemently opposes the J&K Resettlement Act that grants the right of return to Muslim state subjects who fled to Pakistan or PoK after Partition.

Denied the right to citizenship, they are left struggling to survive. TEHELKA talked to several such refugees who have been living in a state of denial.

Shailendra Pandey is Deputy Photo Editor with Tehelka.
shailendra@tehelka.com

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