Falgun Shuddha Ashtami
Jammu & Kashmir: 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 says.
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 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.