70 Years On, West Pakistan Refugees Continue to Live a Life of Irony

In Jammu and Kashmir’s Lassipora, they say they’re at the risk of being displaced because of the government’s double-dealing.

The independence of India began with the largest mass migration of people in the world. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that about 14 million Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus were displaced.

During this displacement, an irony befell some salt traders who used to travel from now Pakistan-side of Kashmir to the now India-side of Kashmir. Due to the unique laws and regulations of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), they were not granted state subject rights and 70 years later continue to be recognised as refugees. The identity of West Pakistan collapsed after 1971 war, but that didn’t dissolve the label of these refugees, specifically called, West Pakistan refugees.

In 1947, around 6-7 families from what is now Pakistan settled down in Lassipora village of Pulwama District. Then Chief Minister of J&K, Sheikh Abdullah, gave them 21 kanals of land to build their homes and families. And as the families grew so did their need for land. However, they cannot purchase land as the state government has not yet awarded them a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), which will recognise them as state subjects.

Community Correspondent Rayees Ahmad reports that in Lassipora, the government owns around 300 kanals of land. Out of this, about 80 kanals is reserved for the community to build temples, schools and so on. This leaves the government with about 200 kanals, which the government transferred to the Small Industries Development Corporation in 1984.

As the families of refugees in Lassipora began to grow to their current number of 200, they started paying a fee under the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001 to acquire some more land, and the land they were paying a fee for was the very land that the government had transferred to SIDCO. The act, also known as the Roshni Act, was enacted with the idea to sell state land at market rates to the people who had illegally encroached it.

Rayees put this point forward in his conversation with the District Commissioner of Pulwama, who said there are no records of the refugees in Lassipora paying a fee for the land that the government transferred to SIDCO. According to the statements of the refugees, the government has played a duplicitous game, leaving only them vulnerable.

Dr Javed Iqbal, a columnist at Greater Kashmir, says that refugees in J&K are in a tricky situation because while they have been “accorded government services, they do not qualify for privileges”. This means that they get access to education and health, but cannot vote in the state elections, buy immobile property, get state scholarships, or state jobs.

In 2017, a group of West Pakistan refugees challenged Article 35A of the Constitution that grants special rights and privileges to the permanent residents of J&K. According to the plea, the petitioners claimed that they have been given hollow reassurances of being granted PRCs since the partition in 1947.

Living as a refugee leaves a community feeling vulnerable. They are not only excluded from economic opportunities, but also socially marginalised. Today it is the 200 families that face the possibility of being uprooted, tomorrow it could be another swathe of West Pakistan refugees in the state who might be asked to relocate themselves. And this group is in a particularly peculiar position because of the opportunities that exist for them in the rest of the country, but not in the state that they have called home for the past 70 years.

Video by Community Correspondent Rayees Ahmed

Article by Shreya Kalra, a member of the VV Editorial Team

 

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