SRINAGAR: The controversy is brewing in Kashmir over the issuance of Nativity/Identity certificates to West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs), who are living in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947, with separatists and opposition mainstream parties alleging that it is meant at changing demographics of the State while government says it won’t change the status of the refugees and they continue to be the non-state subjects.
After clearance from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the PDP-BJP coalition government in the State has started issuing Nativity/Identity certificates to WPRs, who are living in seven districts of Jammu since 1947.
At least 5800 families from Sialkot, Pakistan had settled in border districts in J&K after the partition of Indian sub-continent in 1947. At present 19960 WPR families, according to West Pakistani Refugees Action Committee, are living in different areas of Jammu.
The WPRs can cast votes in parliamentary elections but cannot vote in J&K Assembly elections. Besides, they are not entitled to jobs in the State government departments.
Kashmir is in the grip of over five month long unrest triggered by killing of 21-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan in an encounter with security forces on July 8.
The separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik, who are spearheading the ongoing agitation in the Valley triggered, have alleged that the government is issuing domicile certificates to the WPRs to change the demographic profile of Muslim-majority J&K.
Terming the issue as “life and death for Kashmiris”, the leaders said, “India should settle the WPRs in any other state because settling them in a ‘disputed land’ of J&K will jeopardize and erode its historical and political contours, which is not acceptable to us” and called for protests.
On their call, youth at downtown Srinagar and some other parts of the Valley took out protest demonstrations this afternoon.
Moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq led a demonstration at Nowhatta after Friday prayers. “The government is granting domicile rights to WPRs in keeping with the BJP/RSS agenda of steadily and methodically changing the demographic nature of the state with the ultimate aim of doing away with the disputed nature of Kashmir,” Mirwaiz told the protestors amidst chanting of pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.
Pro-independence JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik also led a protest demonstration against issuance of domicile certificates to WPRs. However, police intercepted his march and detained him along with a dozen of his supporters.
Opposition National Conference spokesman Junaid Mattu said PDP-BJP government was resorting to all possible means to dilute Article 370 and circumvent the State Subject Law.
“The fiasco over the ‘domicile certificate’ stunt of the government has yet again proven how the PDP-BJP Government doesn’t apply its mind before dealing with issues that have a serious bearing on stability and peace in the State,” he said and warned that such “misadventures would be met with stiff resistance by party and people of the State”.
State Congress president G A Mir said PDP government was running on the dictations of RSS.
"When Congress was taking up the issue that WPRs need identification as citizens of India, PDP used to oppose it. When PDP wasn't ready even to identify WPRs as citizens of India in 12 years when the Congress was in power, what compelled them to give domicile certificates to them,” he said.
However, Education Minister and government spokesman Naeem Akhtar clarified that WPRs have been issued identity certificates and not domicile certificates.
“It seems an orchestrated and misleading campaign has been launched to create an impression that the government is changing the status of the WPRs and they are being provided domicile certificates,” he said adding issuance of Identity certificates does in no way change the status of the WPRs and they continue to be the non-state subjects.
He said when the situation had started improving in Kashmir with academic, tourism, developmental and economic activities slowly picking up again, unfortunately speculative reports are being passed around about the change of status of the WPR to create confusion and once again fuel disquiet.
J&K BJP spokesman Sunil Sethi said PDP-BJP government has taken the first step in doing justice with WPRs.
“Many more things are required to be done for their benefits within Constitution to address their demands and remove all troubles from their lives so that feeling of nationals without the nation is taken away,” he added.