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By Devsagar Singh

It is a pity that about two lakh people living in the Jammu region of J and K for more than six decades continue to remain stateless without full citizenship rights. Most of them are Hindu families who migrated from Pakistan during partition in 1947 and after. Many of them came from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Their fault? They chose to settle down in Jammu and Kashmir state, the closest from their original home. The problem? The J and K,s special status (read its Constitution) does not permit “outsiders” to become its citizens. The so called special status emanates from Article 370 of the Constitution of India.

Look at the irony. These displaced people can vote for the Lok Sabh elections but not for the state assembly in whose jurisdiction they live and die. They are denied certain basic privileges like scholarship for school children beyond class ten. The Narendra Modi government last year approved certain concessions for these refugees, including special recruitment drive for their induction into para-military forces, equal employment opportunities in the state, admission of their children in Kendriya vidyalayas, among others.

There are complaints, however, that these concessions are not being followed in right earnest and subtle discriminations are being made against them. These hapless people came in the news earlier this week when the NDA Government , at its Cabinet meeting, approved a Rs 2000 crore development package for them. The decision came in the wake of a Home Ministry proposal to provide enhanced financial aid to these 36,384 families who are settled in different areas of Jammu region, including Kathua and Rajauri districts.

The question is not of aid. They deserve full citizenship rights which will entitle them to live as proud Indians like millions do after crossing over from Pakistan in the wake of partition in 1947. It is also a question of human rights which are being denied to them for six decades and more.

They have been living in J and K state which is their hearth and home for all practical purposes. They are engaged in business, profession etc like others do without making much difference on the ground. Then why this distinction of not making them “state subjects” as others are known in official parlance?

The problem lies in search of a genuine solution. The governments that ruled J and K all these years shirked their responsibility for petty political gains. They made a mountain of a moll hill. They spoke of the spectre of amendment of Article 370 before speaking about human rights and the scourge of partition that these people suffered and still suffering. The earlier regimes had such a long time at their disposal to settle this issue without much of opposition. It is said that Kashmir’s most towering leader Sheikh Abdullah had a sympathetic heart towards these people and that he wanted to settle the issue. But he was hamstrung because of lack of initiative from the Centre.

What prevented the then Central government from taking up and resolving the issue? It was mere fear of the then Jan Sangh, the earlier avatar of the present BJP, which was stridently raising its demand for scrapping Article 370. A small concession would have appeared as victory of the Jan Sangh. Since late Sheikh Abdullah was on board on the issue of these refugees, their solution would have been found if the Centre had pursued the matter. Jan Sangh was hardly a political force then. The people of Kashmir had, after all, chosen to be with India.

Much water has flown down the Jhelum since. Sheikh Abdullah is gone. Rigging of elections followed. Militancy started raising its head. The alienation began to take root. Terrorism came to the Valley, thanks to an unfriendly neighbor whose stake in J and K had only grown in dimension . Today, the state of Jammu and Kashmir is counted among the world’s one of the biggest trouble spots.

Alienation is complete because of trust deficit accumulated on account of years of petty politics and lack of genuine efforts to solve even basic human issues like the present one. They made it complicated.

During the UPA regime under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a refugee from Pakistan, there was some hope among these stateless people of Jammu and Kashmir. Dr Manmohan Singh promised action. But nothing happened. Mr Narendra Modi has at least initiated some positive moves, in the form of development grant. (IPA Service)

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