Jammu: Lubha Ram Gandhi is the head of an organisation whose primary aim is to pressurise the central and state governments into granting West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) the same rights as those of the inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir. He considers rightwing Hindu leaders, who champion his cause, as his friends. Yet, when it comes to clandestine settlement of Hindus from other parts of India in Jammu province, he is on the same page with Kashmiri resistance leaders.
“Sangh parivar has settled wrong people in the state with the aim of making demographic changes in the garb of fighting for our cause,” said Gandhi, who came as a refugee from Sialkot in Pakistan in 1947 and settled in Vijaypur, about 28km from Jammu.
Gandhi, a former soldier with Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, is the head of West Pakistan Refugee Action Committee, which has been organising sit-ins and demonstrations in Jammu and Delhi for the permanent settlement WPRs in the state.
Last month, a parliamentary panel recommended that the WPRs shall be granted the permanent resident status of the state and voting rights in Assembly elections. Fearing that settling these refugees in Jammu province will lead to demographic changes, Kashmiri resistance groups have warned of serious repercussions if the recommendations are implemented.
Gandhi fumes at the rising opposition to these recommendations in the valley.
“Separatists don’t own the state. Geelani and Mirwaiz are as good a citizens of this place as us. Basically, misunderstanding has been created by political parties,” Gandhi told Kashmir Reader.
He said that if the “separatists do not oppose” the settlement of WPRs, they might find in him a supporter of their larger cause.
“Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh does settle people here. They brought Hindu Punjabis and wrong people here. Outsiders change the demography of the state. It is the government policy,” Gandhi said.
“But why should we be held responsible for their deeds. We can seek the ouster of outsiders only after we are given state subjects.”
Most of the people settled at the behest of the RSS—Biharis, Punjabis, Bangladeshis and Myanmarese—have fraudulently managed to secure State Subject Certificate and settled in newly-built residential clusters such as Nanak Nagar, Bhagwati Nagar, Gorakh Nagar, Gandhi said.
“Political parties need voters, so they settle these people here,” he said.
“Look, Jammu was a small city. Beyond Tawi river there was no residential settlement. But in the aftermath of the Operation Bluestar in Punjab, Hindus were allowed to settle here and granted citizenship rights as well,” he said.
Gandhi said affluent outsiders buy their way into the state subject status.
“(former) Congress legislator Raman Bhalla is an outsider. We have been struggling for the past 67 years and yet we are being denied state subject status,” he said.
“Jain Bazar jewelers are outsiders but managed to get state subject certificates,” he said. When asked whether he has any documentary evidence to prove this, he said he doesn’t have any “but anyone can tell you this is a fact”.
Gandhi is not adamant on the settlement of the WPRs in Jammu and Kashmir. He said they are “tired of” of the politics done in the name of their cause.
“Our three generations have lived life of misery. Let the government settle us outside the state. We don’t hold property right but are living in houses vacated by Muslims who migrated to Pakistan,” said Gandhi.
Gandhi is especially scornful of National Conference, PDP and Congress, accusing them of linking their issue with that of law and order situation in Kashmir.
“I raise this issue with (former prime minister) Manmohan Singh once. He said the government apprehends the situation in Kashmir will worsen. So our issue has got linked with the larger Kashmir issue,” said Gandhi.
Official records put the number of WPRs at about 45,000. According to Gandhi, however, there are about 25,460 families comprising 1.25 lakh people in seven tehsils of Jammu. The tehsil-wise breakup of the families, according to WPR Association, is: Hiranagar (1416 families), Kathua (3200), Sambha (1612), Bishna (2100), RS Pora (3263), Jammu (6000), Akhnoor (2104). The total number of families according to this data is 19695 families, far less than the figure of 25,460 quoted by Gandhi. The Association has no accurate figure of the total number of WPRs. Gandhi said it has arrived at the 1.25 lakh figure by multiplying the total number of families by five, the average size of a family.
According to Gandhi, however, when the WPRs were asked to register themselves with then divisional commissioner Dinanath Kotwal during the reign of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, only “2772 families came forward because the rest feared they would be sent back to Pakistan”.
Quoting revenue records, Gandhi said as many as 5764 refugee families came to Jammu from Pakistan. Of these, 2000-2500 left the state and settled in other parts of India.
“The association also counts these families as refugees,” he said.