While struggling to restore normalcy in restive Kashmir, the state government has been caught up in yet another controversy. The government’s decision to issue “domicile certificates” to the West Pakistan Refugee (WPR)s settled in Jammu region has touched a new nerve. And even though the government is trying to clear the air, there’s more than what meets the eye.
The controversy raked up recently when the media reports said that the government has started issuance of “domicile certificates” to the refugees, over three lakh of whom live in Jammu region. For 70 years these refugees, largely Hindus, have been seeking a one-time settlement in the region.
Interestingly, such refugees settled in other Indian states didn’t face this problem as they were granted citizenship and a right to vote. However, unlike other states, Jammu and Kashmir is primarily governed by its own constitution.
As per its “state subject law”, enacted by the then Maharajas, no outsider can settle here or enjoy rights which real the inhabitants are entitled to. This law basically prevents the WPRs from enjoying basic rights like admissions in schools and colleges, government jobs and ownership of immovable property in the state.
While the issue of the settlement was pending for years, the Bharitiya Janta Party (BJP) championed the cause of WRPs off late.
During campaigning for Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a rally at Hira Nagar, Jammu, had advocated for resolving issues of West Pak Refugees on humanitarian grounds including citizenship and voting rights. Subsequently, when Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) allied with the rightwing BJP in 2015, the two parties amicably decided on settlement of WPRs.
Mutual consent on this point finds mention in the Agenda of Alliance (AoA) under subhead “Social & Humanitarian Initiatives”. It states that the coalition is committed to “Take measures for sustenance and livelihood of the West Pakistan refugees.” Thus if the coalition government has started issuance of “domicile certificates”, it’s in accordance with the agenda. But the ruling PDP is unwilling to call a spade a spade.
It’s trying to keep the right-wing party and the agitating people in good humor at the same time, something which is unlikely to realize in the given circumstances.
The separatists are already up in arms and have called for a state-wide agitation. The “united” Hurriyat has termed it a matter of “life and death for the existence of Muslims and Kashmiris.”
The separatists and majority of other similar voices say that the move is aimed at “changing the Muslim majority demography of this disputed region.” “PDP has again started working on its anti-Kashmir and anti-Muslim agenda but people of Jammu Kashmir will not hesitate to offer any sacrifice to oppose such actions tooth and nail,” the “united” Hurriyat recently said.
The opposition parties have also opposed the government’s move saying it will erode Article 370 which guarantees special status to J&K.
The government, on the other hand, has denied allegations of issuing “domicile certificates” saying only “identity certificates” are being issued. But the other group is unwilling to buy their plea. And this is pretty logical. Identity certificates are expected to do exactly what domicile certificates can do for the settlement of refugees. Otherwise, why would you need to issue certificates?
By changing the nomenclature, the coalition government seems to be misleading either the people or its ally. And if the PDP-led government is so honest in its clarification, what prevents it from calling a press conference to clear doubts, if any?