SRINAGAR: “I have two sons – one has passed Class 12 and another Class 10. I wanted my sons to continue their education. However, my elder son was denied admission in colleges in Jammu and Kashmir as we are not citizens of the state even after living here for 72 years,” said a West Pakistan Refugee (WPR) Ram Singh, who lives in Samporanpur, Kulia area in Jammu.
Ram Singh has been living in border areas of Kathua, Samba, Reasi, R S Pura, Jammu, since 1947 after migrating to J&K following the Partition of India. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, about 5,764 families — comprising 47,215 persons — migrated from West Pakistan in 1947 and settled in different areas of the state.
The West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee (WPRAC) chairman Labha Ram Gandhi said in last 72 years the number of WPR families has gone up to 20,000, comprising about one lakh people. The J&K government rehabilitated them and gave them land (approximately 4 kanals per family) but without property rights. Since the refugees belonged to Pakistan, they were not granted Jammu and Kashmir citizenship.
The WPRs are entitled to vote for parliamentary elections but cannot vote for Assembly or municipal or panchayat polls. “We cannot get state government jobs and our wards cannot get scholarships,” added Gandhi.
Successive state governments have ruled out granting citizenship to WPRs. “We are being denied benefits of J&K government schemes,” said another refugee Sukhdev Singh.Last year, the state government had given identity certificates to WPRs on directions of the central government. The WPRs, he said, feel let down by BJP at the Centre. “After the BJP came to power, we thought that we will be given rights but our hopes were dashed,” Ram Singh said.
The central government had last year approved a financial package for WPRs and announced a compensation of Rs 5.5 lakh to each family. “About six months have passed, but we are yet to receive the money. The state government wants us to produce electoral rolls from 1951 and 1957 mentioning our names. Is it possible?” asked Sukhdev.
He also pointed out that amount sanctioned is meager. “The central government should settle us in a place where we are treated as citizens of India and have equal rights,” he said.With elections scheduled in the next few months, the refugees said they will now decide which party they will support. “Last time, we had supported the BJP but they did not do anything for us,” added Gandhi.