Over 3,00,000 Hindus, Sikhs from PoK still fighting for their acceptance Horrific Tales
Octogenarian Ram Lal Verma administered poison to his young bride as a group of Pakistani tribals attacked his house in Mirpur in the erstwhile united Jammu and Kashmir, now under Pakistan occupation. Even after 63 years of that holocaust, his eyes goes wet and shiver of his fragile body is apparent, as he narrates the incident as to how
brutally the Hindus and Sikhs were massacred by a group of Pakistani tribals, leading to their exodus from Mirpur, Muzaffarabad and Kotli areas, now in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, during the October-November months of 1947.
He was not alone, there were many more who either killed their daughters, sisters and wives with their own hands or women killed themselves to save their honour after the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India during Partition of India. This accession jolted the then Pakistan regime, as it had lost the strategically located Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir at the “whim” of a Hindu ruler, prompting a attack, which led to one of the worst genocide.
It is stated that 50,000 persons were massacred and uncountable number went missing, especially women and children, while few lucky ones survived and managed to reach Jammu and Kashmir administered by India. All those who reached Kashmir were forced to return to Jammu because it is alleged that the then head of the state, the late Sheikh Mohd Abdullah, the grandfather of the present Chief Minister of J&K Omar Abdullah did not want them to settle in Muslim-dominated Kashmir. For, it would have affected the demographic structure of Kashmir!
But, even after 63 years of
India’s Independence, the ordeal of over 3,00,000, who were forced to flee Pakistan in 1947, still continues. This displaced community is still fighting for its acceptance. Life for these settlers is like a suspension bridge hanging on the ropes of suffering, madness and death. Their frustration vindicates the reality, as their coming generations have no future in their own country despite they being Indians and will continue to remain as the second-class citizens.
This is an irony that they have been living in India-administered Jammu & Kashmir for the past 63 years and technically are Indian citizens, and are allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, but they cannot vote in the state assembly elections, buy property, and get employment in the state, since they do not have the Permanent Resident Certificate.
The legal tangle that has been used as a tool predominantly by Kashmir-based political groups to oppose resident rights of the state to these refugees is the law of 20th century ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh, who barred outsiders from becoming permanent residents of the state.
The refugees, who have had their own holocaust at the hands of tribal invaders, were lodged at camps in Jammu province, especially in RS Pura and Jammu areas, when they arrived in India and they were promised that they would be restored to their homes, as and when PoK is liberated from the illegal occupation by Pakistan. But that promise was never fulfilled.
Over the years, hopes of returning to their abandoned homes in PoK have dwindled.
At least 40 per cent of them have been leading a miserable life for the past three generations in Jammu, Kathua, Rajouri, Poonch and Udhampur districts of Jammu & Kashmir. Most of them were compelled to quit their native land in Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and Poonch, first in 1947 and then again in two phases in 1965 and 1971 after India-Pakistan wars.
Shoba Ram, who lost his mother, sisters and brothers in the tribal invasion as a seven-year-child and came with his father, points out that memories are still afresh in his mind–how blood spilled all around him while he along with his father had remained hidden on a tree top in a nearby jungle for a week. “I at this fag end of my life feel, we are ‘people of nowhere’ and are still striving for acceptance, the compensation and other monetary benefits come later. The future of my children and grandchildren still remain undefined as they still have no country to call their own.”
These people are neither refugees, nor fully settled citizens. Their agony increases with every passing day, and for the past six decades has become a “script of tragedy, mourning and hopelessness”. Refugees face a peculiar technical problem. India’s official stand is that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is legally a part of its territory and as such settlers cannot be granted the status of refugees. The official line is that only those people who migrate from a foreign territory are classified as refugees. PoK refugees have had to pay a high price for this official stance. Since they lack official status, they are deprived of all the benefits accorded to refugees under national and international laws. The Indian government also falls back on the official position when it comes to compensating to those people from Mirpur, whose properties were washed away due to the construction of the World Bank-funded Mangla Dam.
Tales of misery and abject poverty abound in the camps. Subasho Devi, a resident of Gadigarh camp, Jammu, migrated from Mirpur to India in 1947. Her children were born and raised at the camp. Trapped in debt and with no prospect of employment, two of her sons committed suicide. Most of the first-generation camp residents are aged now. They have taken refuge in nostalgia and cling to the hope that one day they will be able to return to their homes in PoK. But the third-generation residents, born and brought up in the camps, have no such illusions. “I hear about sprawling homes and orchards that our families owned. My parents talk about them,” says 24-year-old
Pawan, a school dropout. “But for me, the camp has always been home.”
Despite persistent bilateral talks between India and Pakistan, the 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 & Kashmir state nor are they part of Prime Minister’s working group set up to broaden the dialogue on the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Perhaps ongoing terrorism in the state has completely devoured up the dialogue process relegating the perplexed issue of PoK refugees to the back burner.
SOS International, an NGO that works with PoK refugees, has initiated a fresh move to press upon the state and centre governments to concede to their demands. Currently many of the older generation of these refugees have been languishing in prisons for the past fortnight. The demands include: The Indian government must take up the issue of return and rehabilitation of PoK refugees with its Pakistani counterpart. It must make it a matter of priority to include representatives from the PoK refugee community in the dialogue process on Jammu & Kashmir, at all levels. If the Government of India accords official refugee status to PoK refugees, they will be able to avail of benefits provided to refugees under national and international laws. This will be a life-saving move for many members of the PoK refugee community, which is struggling hard to earn a living. Twenty-four seats are reserved in the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly for PoK. Refugee United Front (RUF), an umbrella organisation of several groups representing PoK refugees in Jammu & Kashmir, has suggested that PoK refugees in India be allowed to contest at least some of these seats. This can be facilitated by creating floating constituencies or constituencies-in-exile. RUF leaders argue that once PoK refugees have political representation, they will be able to exercise some degree of control over policy matters
concerning their status in India.
Rajiv Chunni, while talking to this correspondent, said, “Either concede to our demands or allow us to go back to our lands in Pakistan-held Kashmir, as we belong to no man’s land. If the government is giving cash- relief to Kashmiri Pandits, why it’s being denied to us. The properties of KPs in the valley are being protected by government but till now we are not aware of the condition of our properties in PoK. It is shameful on the part of government to impose serious charges against these elderly who were holding peaceful protests to draw attention of the government towards their genuine demands. What they want is acceptance by Jammu & Kashmir during their lifetimes”.
Jammu and Kashmir Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Raman Bhalla, answering a question in state assembly, said, “a constitutional amendment is required to provide permanent residency to these refugees, as our Constitution forbids citizenship rights to outsiders.” It must be mentioned here that Jammu & Kashmir is also the only Indian state to have its separate constitution and flag, part of the pact under which it acceded to India in 1947. And to seek their rights, these refugees have been holding peaceful demonstrations, protests, submitting memorandums, fighting legal battles, etc. assurances, however, came in bounty, but action has been absent. The politicians, who gave them a hug and promised the moon, turned their back the moment they were voted to power.
Another horrifying account of the events has been posted on internet by one Gupta from Georgia, he writes: “As a ten-year-old child, I, along with 5,000 Hindus and Sikhs, was held prisoner at the Alibeg prison. On March 16, 1948, only about 1,600 prisoners walked out from the Alibeg prison alive. I was one of them.” Gupta further writes: “My grandmother Kartar Devi, my paternal uncle Mohanlal Gupta, and my maternal great-grandfather Lalman Shah were some of those who died in the infernos of Mirpur. My mother Padma Devi and my aunts, Rajmohni Gupta and Sushila Gupta, were some of the women kidnapped from the Mirpur courthouse. I still don’t know how or where my aunts are—whether alive or not”.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu