Measures taken by the government of India to rehabilitate West Pakistan refugees have sparked severe reactions across Kashmir. The union home minister has paved the way for their inclusion into paramilitary forces, and assured their rehabilitation in a “phased manner” as well, meaning thereby, that the refugees are most likely to be granted permanent resident status. This would have a serious bearing on the state’s demographic complexion.
While the measure has been perceived as a brazen violation of Article 370, the government of India has been accused of applying two yardsticks on the issue. The state legislature had passed the Re-Settlement Act for the return and rehabilitation of people forced to migrate from various parts of the J and K state in 1947 following the Jammu massacre. When the GoI referred the Act to the Supreme Court for opinion, the latter returned it after twenty years, but without any changes. This happened at a time when the BJP ruled India and, understandably, the then union home minister, LK Advani, refused to implement it.
It is widely believed that half-a-million Muslims were forced to migrate from the Jammu region in 1947, whose return would add a new dimension to the `internal aspect’ of the Kashmir dispute. The petition the GoI got filed in the Supreme Court through a Jammu-based politician to ‘stay’ the Act rarely comes up for hearing, and the state government too has deliberately let the matter drift. The union home minister’s heart beats for the West Pakistan refugees because all of them belong to a particular religion, but has no concern for the muhajireen who fled a murderous pogrom in 1947.
The decision on West Pakistan refugees is politically motivated and must be opposed tooth and nail. The humanitarian task of rehabilitating them must not be accomplished by further undermining the special constitutional guarantees of Jammu and Kashmir. As it is, the state and its people are already under tremendous pulls and pressures, the sharply polarizing influence of the sangh brigade being only the latest in a long list, and could do with a lot less of needless aggravation. Will Jammu and Kashmir be given no respite?