Demographic engineering is a subject that has historically triggered tensions in Kashmir. Last week when the state government started issuing ‘domicile certificates’ to West Pakistan Refugees, Kashmir poured its anger out on an issue having larger implications in future, explains Masood Hussain
The impression that the ruling coalition is still trying to pick up the threads from the 10-month long Mufti Sayeed led tenure to make a comeback sounds too simplistic. The fact is that the Agenda of Alliance, the gospel for ruling BJP-PDP, is being implemented gradually. PDP may have issues in getting its part of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) implemented because area of influence continues to be in turmoil, it is not same for the BJP that is pushing its agenda.
In the last fortnight, two major developments took place. First, it was formal approval to Rs 2000 crore package for Displaced Persons (DPs). Secondly, came the beginning of issuance of ‘domicile certificates’ to the West Pakistan Refugees (WPR), who are commonly called the Sharnarthis – the refugees. Both the issues are part of the Agenda of Alliance.
Listed under Social & Humanitarian Initiatives that tackles “protecting and fostering ethnic and religious diversity” of state, the Agenda of Alliance says it will “work out a one-time settlement for refugees from Pakistan occupied Kashmir of 1947, 1965 & 1971” and “take measures for sustenance and livelihood of the West Pakistan refugees.” That is exactly what is being implemented.
Both these demographic groups are part of the partition legacy. The successive governments have been tackling these two groups on ad-hoc basis but the rightwing party is keen to take advantage of being in power in Delhi and in Srinagar. But both these groups are completely different as far as constitution of J&K goes.
As India and Pakistan came in to being as sovereigns, massive communal frenzy took off. Though J&K, the erstwhile princely state was not directly involved till November 1947 – when massive massacre of Muslims took place in Jammu, it has started getting sort of an impact because of massive migration of people. The real crisis started in October when parts of Maharaji Hari Singh ruled state rebelled from Poonch-Rawlakot and eventually managed slicing Kashmir into two parts – the Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) and J&K.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly Hindus fled from Mirpur and Muzaffarabad after the areas fell to the rebels. Passing through Kashmir, Jammu was their main destination of all these migrants. They all are state subjects, having every right that other residents of the state enjoy.
Official records suggest 31619 Hindu families were uprooted from various J&K territories (now forming PaK) in 1947-48 and migrated to Jammu. While 5300 families settled in other parts of India, 26319 settled within J&K, mostly in Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri.
Post-migration, the government allotted them more than a million kanals of land including 700 thousand kanals which fleeing and slain Muslims had left behind in Jammu. Apart from plots, cash assistance was also extended to them. In fact, Rs 55.17 crore grant is still being implemented among 2841 families who never got any cash assistance. Another group comprising 48 families who had not been given any residential plot are getting their share from a separate Rs 4 crore special grant of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Households who were displaced from Chamb, Akhnoor and other border belts who had to leave their homes and migrate towards hinterland were also part of the same DP population and tackled with the migrants from ‘across’.
Modi government started working on package soon after it assumed office. For the assembly elections, it was part of the speeches its leaders delivered in the Dogra heartland. It was announced as part of the overall Rs 80,000 crore package that Modi announced in Srinagar in December 2015. Involving rehabilitation of 36,384 displaced families, the package got approval of the central cabinet on November 30.
By December 12, Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti was taking to a huge audience of DPs in Jammu, distributing bank cheques to the heads of DP families. Terming J&K as “biggest victim of the subcontinent’s partition of 1947”, Ms Mufti said J&K’s prosperity is linked to improved bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.
“We have to go back to the era of Vajpayee when hostilities between the two neighboring countries were minimal and despite provocations like Kargil and Parliament attack, option of war was not even considered,” Ms Mufti said. “Rather it led to opening of hearts and minds between the two sides which ultimately resulted into opening of borders, resumption of trade and more people to people contact.”
Interestingly, the details of the package about how it will mark the conclusion of the rehabilitation, is yet to become public. It also offers no time-lines.
This is the section of the population whose cards have triggered a fierce reaction, mostly from Kashmir. Basically residents of Sialkot and other neghbouring areas and mostly Hindus and Sikhs, they are a huge mix of different social and economic groups. As pointed out in Border and Peoples, An Interface, a research based publication edited by political scientist Rekha Choudhary for Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, the refugees settled in Chak Jaffar village are lower castes, particularly Dalits who worked as labourers, potters and load carriers before migration, their counterparts in Bhagwati Nagar belong to higher castes having big landholdings.
They are non state subjects and unlike DPs, can neither have a right to vote for state legislature nor can seek a job in state government. A significant chunk of population that has the potential of turning tables in state assembly (though they lack rights), their numbers are a huge controversy.
The then Revenue Minister M N Koul informed the state assembly on March 16, 1971 that only 2752 WPR families are in J&K. Dr Karan Singh, the then Sadr-e-Reyasat told The Statesman on March 25, 1981 that there were around 3000 families from Sialkot and 90 percent of them were Harijans. On August 30, 2007, the government told the Panthers Party founder Bhim Singh in the state legislative council that J&K has 4745 families WPRs comprising 21979 souls.
But the numbers got a completely different spin after a committee led by IAS office G D Wadhwa, the then Financial Commissioner, submitted his report on November 29, 2007. He put the WPRs number at 5764 families comprising 47215 souls who are scattered in Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri districts. Under Cabinet Order (No 578-c of 1954), the Committee said the WPRs were given right to use over 46466 kanals of land on basis of either 12 acres of Khushki or 8 acres of Aabi. No government has ever considered them for any social or political rights and never ever considered them for granting state subject rights.
In 2012, however, West Pakistani Refugees Action Committee Cell–1947 (WPRAC) said enumerating in seven tehsils of Jammu found 18,428 families.
They have remained the subject matter of all the political parties, mostly the Congress and the BJP. Congress forced Omar Abdullah to seek a Rs 9096 crore package from the centre for rehabilitation of both DPs, Chammb refugees and WPRs and the cabinet cleared it on October 16, 2014. Central government has been asking the successive government to extend one or the other facility to them. It has remained a massive pressure point for Home Ministry to seek state subject status to them.
The last Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) had asked the Chiefs of all Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) that WPRs be considered for recruitment. That was possible only if J&K government issues them domicile certificates.
The issue became the main news last week when the revenue authorities in Jammu revealed that they have started issuing domicile certificates to the WPRs. “The Government of India found a way out and issued an order to the state government to issue certificates to the WPRs with a specific format mentioning that they reside in Jammu and Kashmir,” Dr Pawan Kotwal, Divisional Commissioner Jammu was quoted saying. “This is not a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) but just an authentication that the WPRs reside in Jammu and Kashmir.”
But this is something that was already happening according to Border and Peoples, An Interface. It mentions a notification, The Resident of J&K State (Relaxation of Upper Age Limit for Recruitment of Central Civil Services and Posts) Rules, 1997 that was issued by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievance and Pensions (Department of Personnel and Training), Government of India.
“Under Rule 4 of these Rules, District Magistrates are competent to issue domicile certificate to any resident of the State to the effect that such person is domiciled in the State of J&K,” the research said. “This notification was extended up to end-December 2011 by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievance and Pensions (Department of Personnel and Training).” Later, the state government requested for extending the date of notification for a period of two years, up to end-2013, in favour of West Pakistani refugees. “The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievance and Pensions (Department of Personnel and Training), Government of India, extended the period to 2013. The State government has implemented the notification and the process of issuance of Domicile Certificates is now on,” it said in 2012.
But the revelation, this time, triggered a sort of crisis as it was linked with the larger rightwing loud-thinking about changing the demography of J&K. Key problem in the crisis a BJP lawmaker saying that his party was “vigorously pursuing” all the WPRs issues including citizenship rights “which would be resolved stage by stage”.
Though Education Minister Naeem Akhter trashed the reports insisting that his government was issuing only “identity cards”, the crisis still remains. Braving intense cold, a lawmaker is on protest sit-in outside Chief Minister’s residence. Officials also say that this might be first exercise in history in which WPRs will be certified Pakistani refugees, in absence of which, some of them have already got permanent resident certificates.
Dilution of Kashmir’s special position has come in stages in a gradual process. On state subject issues, in the first came a ruling from Supreme Courts asking state government not to deny state subject status to J&K women marrying non-state subjects. When the state government wanted to take lawmaking route to have adequate safeguards, Congress and BJP triggered a ruckus in streets and the last PDP-Congress government avoided legislation as it could led to its fall.
In the second stage came another court ruling directing authorities not to use a particular stamp on the state subjects of women. Now nobody knows how many non-locals have acquired immovable properties in J&K?
Is the WPR ‘identity card’ beginning of a new process of making Pakistani origin people state subjects?