An uncertain refuge
Three lakh refugees left their homes behind only to find they have restricted rights in J&K
Text and photographs by Shailendra Pandey
Neeta Devi, 38
My father-in-law migrated in 1971. My husband, a sweetmeat-maker, died in 2008 because of a liver problem. After his death, I started working as a domestic help. I earn 1,000 every month. It’s very difficult to feed four mouths with this amount, but our neighbours are very helpful. We are alive only because of them. I have two daughters and one son. They are all toppers in their class. Neha got 98 percent in Class IX, Shefali got 99 percent in Class VII and Vishal got 80 percent in Class VI. After my husband’s death, the school told us: “You don’t need to pay anything, we will arrange for their education.” My 11-year-old son goes to his uncle’s sweet shop to learn how to make sweets.
Billa Ram, 80
We were well-settled in Pakistan with over 40 members in our family. I was 15 when I came from Pakistan. When we left, we never thought that we were leaving our homes forever. We have been living on this land since 1947. However, this land is not registered in my name because of Article 370. We don’t even have state citizenship. We are harassed by revenue officers, who have asked us to leave this land, saying it’s government land. They also ask for bribes, and once I even gave Rs 2,000 to a tehsildar.
Mohammad Sharif, 46
ĎAt Chhamb, we used to
donate money but here
we depend on charity.
Looking at our
condition, who will
marry my daughter?í
We lived in Chhamb, and at that time there were no issues between Hindus and Muslims. In 1971, when Pakistan launched an attack at night, our family fled. We first stayed in a refugee camp and then rented a house, and then again went back to a camp. In 1977, the government decided to allot 48 kanals (1 kanal = 1/8 acre) to each family. Most people got nothing and the ones who were lucky, received no more than 20 kanals. My father got only five kanals. The land in the border region is rich and fertile but here it is totally unfit for agriculture. In Chhamb, we were able to donate money but here we depend on charity. We want at least sufficient land for agriculture.
Somi Kumar, 26
'My father is a farm
worker. After him, what
are we going to do? We
donít have any land here.
A job in Jammu would
make things easierí
My grandfather came from Pakistan in 1947. When I was in Class VI, I was injured in a landmine blast. On the third day at the hospital, when I asked for water and tried to hold the glass, I realised that I had lost both my hands and a leg. I was devastated. We spent about Rs 2.5 lakh on my treatment; the villagers helped us financially though we received only Rs 75,000 from the government. Had this happened in Srinagar, we would have received Rs 5-6 lakh and a government job, but there is nothing for us here. I had to leave school. I recently got married and have a son. We don’t have any land. If only I could get a job in Jammu, my life would be much easier.
Bhour Camp, Jammu
We were six brothers living happily in Palandari tehsil. We owned a huge house that could accommodate 500 people, besides owning acres and acres of land and orchards. Following Pakistani aggression in October 1947, thousands of innocent people were brutally slaughtered. We managed to escape and reach Poonch. My brothers were already married, but being the youngest and living with my parents, I couldn’t even think of marriage. I wasn’t even earning anything. After their death, I have been living alone. My health is deteriorating and my neighbours give me food when I am unable to cook for myself.
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.