PoK REFUGEES: NO HOMELAND IN TWO NATIONS
Maitreya Buddha Samantaray
The author is a Delhi based security analyst. Prior to it, he has served as a correspondent of The Indian Express, Jammu and Kashmir. Author is a research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi and was the recipient of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) Doctoral fellowship. Author has published a good number of articles in different magazines, journals and web portals of national and international repute. He has presented several papers in national and international seminars.
Life for these settlers is like a suspension bridge hanging on the ropes of suffering, madness, and death. Their frustrations vindicate the reality that their coming generations has no future in this country despite being an Indian and will continue to remain as second class citizens. Treated with suspicion and settled in dilapidated camps, these community members are none other than refugees from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) who have been compromised to live with the memories of lush fields and orchards that they had left behind in their true homes across the Line of Control (LoC). Most of them have been settled in dilapidated one room tenements in several camps. Quality children for their children are a mere wishful thinking. Schools in the PoK settlers´ camp are mostly under staffed and devoid of basic infrastructure. Caught in a quagmire, settlers of these camps are fast becoming synonymous with drug abuse and aggressive behaviour.
With an estimated 12,000,00 PoK refugee population in India, at least 40 percent of them have been leading a miserable life for the past three generations in Jammu, Kathua, Rajouri, Poonch and Udhampur districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Approximately 2,000,00 refugees from the total population are settled in 34 camps in Jammu province, especially in RS Pura and Jammu areas. Most of them were compelled to quit their native soil in Muzaffarabad , Mirpur and Poonch first in 1947 and then again in two phases in 1965 and 1971 after India-Pakistan wars.
Refugees from PoK face peculiar technical problem. India´s official stand is that PoK is legally a part of its territory and as such settlers can not be granted the status of refugees. Official line is that only those people who migrate from a foreign territory are classified as refugees. This has deprived PoK refugees of benefits accorded to refugees under national and international law. For the same technical clause, the Indian government had refused to pursue the compensation that was supposed to be given to those people in Mirpur (Currently in PoK) whose properties were washed away due to the construction of the World Bank-funded Mangla Dam. Despite persistent bilateral talks between India and Pakistan, PoK refugee issue is yet to figure in the bilateral agenda. Neither PoK refugees´ representatives were part of any round table conferences held between the Union and Jammu and Kashmir state nor are they part of Prime Minister´s working group set up to broaden the dialogue on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Perhaps on going militancy in the state has completely devoured up the dialogue process relegating the perplexed issue of POK refugees to the background.
Hectic Indo-Pakistan dialogue over the problem of immovable evacuee property of the PoK refugees have been in progress over nearly the last seven years. Indian authorities have been consistently pursuing that the immoveable evacuee properties including agricultural land in India and Pakistan should be exchanged in lump sum on Government to Government basis- the debtor country paying to the creditor for the difference between the values of such properties in the two countries. Ironically, ideas mooted by the Indian government have, however, been turned down by Pakistan. There has been persistent demand from PoK refugees that these properties should be transferred to them with permanent ownership. The properties have been fast deteriorating and many of them have already been declared unfit for habitation or have crumbled down.
Earlier in the past, Centre had taken a decision to constitute a committee of officials of both India and Pakistan for the purpose of identification and scrutiny of the refugee cases. To mitigate the hardships of such families who have lost their heads during all that process-period, it was supposedly agreed by the Indian government that their legal heirs would be allowed to represent their claims supported by succession certificates. Additionally, Indian Parliament took serious concern over belated delay in the settlement of the claims of all such up-rooted PoK families and the matter was debated on 26 December 1978, considering the Petition of Jammu and Kashmir Sharnarthi Action Committee and after prolonged deliberations, several positive recommendations were made 1980. However, it seems, no serious efforts have started in earnest even after the lapser of more than two dacades. It is apprehended that Indian government has the ambiguity over the status of the PoK people and seems messed up the acronyms like `refugees´, `migrants´, ‘displaced persons’ or ‘internally displaced persons’. However, whatever may be their presumed achieved status; government has specific benefits earmarked for every category of settlers. But, PoK settlers are yet to get the needful.
PoK displaced persons have been demanding refugee status for them and even with utmost distrust urging the Indian authorities to take up their return and rehabilitation with Pakistan and include them in Jammu and Kashmir dialogue process. They have been also vocal in demanding electoral rights for contesting in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly election in some of the 24 seats reserved for the PoK region. Off late they have started insisting for constituting an autonomous `PoK Refugees Development Board´ with financial power to aid PoK refugees living in camps. Earlier on 6 November 2006, different organisations representing the PoK refugees with the support of several political parties had organised a complete shutdown in Jammu.
It is high time that organisations fighting for refugee cause should come out of their political differences and evolve a mechanism for forceful committed action to present their case at the centre. Through their concerted effort, coming generations of the PoK refugees may enjoy the status of the respectable citizen of India in its true perspective. But in case of the failure on the parts of the leaders involved in leading different sections of the refugees by not rising to the occasion, the generations of future will curse the present leadership. The Union of India should take up this matter on a priority basis to mitigate their grievances who are still being treated as displaced persons in their own country.