A Kashmiri farmer plucks cherries at an orchard in central Kashmir’s Garderbal district.
SRINAGAR: For the two lakh population of West Pakistan refugees, Valmiki Dalits of Punjab and Gurkhas, living in the Jammu division of the Union Territory of J&K for the past seven decades, the new domicile rules, granting them permanent resident status with full voting rights, have truly changed their lives.
According to Labha Ram Gandhi, chairman of West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee, nearly one lakh Pakistani refugees who migrated to J&K during Partition are now entitled to the ‘Permanent Residence Certificate’ which enable them to enjoy the right to government jobs and a host of other facilities available to permanent J&K domiciles.
“Yes, the Pakistani refugees got ration cards and had the right of vote in parliamentary elections… but were barred from voting in assembly polls… Now we will have the right to vote in both elections,” said Gandhi.
According to the new domicile law, which came into force on May 24 this year, migrants not registered with the relief and rehabilitation department can apply for the permanent residence certificate by providing documents proving inclusion of their names in the electoral rolls of 1988, proof of registration as a migrant in any state, or any other valid stipulated document.
About a year before the 2014 parliamentary elections, the Union home ministry had released a Rs 200-crore package for the relief and rehabilitation of West Pakistan refugees living in J&K since 1947. There were negligible takers from among the West Pakistan refugees, though about 70,000 POK refugees availed benefits.
Incidentally, the package has been shelved as genuine beneficiaries could not authenticate their claims, the Union home ministry said in the Lok Sabha.
“Similarly, former chief minister Omar Abdullah in a cabinet meeting in 2014 also announced Rs 5.50 lakh to each refugee family in lieu of the properties they had left behind in Pakistan at the time of migration in 1947. However, the West Pakistan refugees could not avail the package as they could not furnish documents to prove their claims,” said Rajeev Chooni, president of POK Refugee Association.
The erstwhile governments had even allotted four kanals (one kanal is equal to 5,445 sft) of land to West Pakistan refugees along the international border (IB), but the families were scattered across the seven assembly segments, he said.
The Valmiki community was brought here in 1957 from Gurdaspur and Amritsar on the assurance of the then J&K Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed that they would be given permanent resident status and other privileges. However, for the past 62 years, they only worked as sweepers.
The 200 families of Valmiki Dalits in Jammu rose to being a 50,000-people community over a period of seven decades, living in Jammu were also without citizenship rights, said Ramesh Kumar, a Valmiki. “But the new domicile rules have brought about change in the status of the Valmikis,” he added.
Gurkha servicemen, another category of the migrants living in Jammu, who had fought wars for Kashmir under the erstwhile Dogra rulers before 1947, too, are happy that the new domicile rules grant them permanent residency rights.