Domicile certificates to West Pakistan Refugees trigger new row in J&K

Rashid�s protest was against the state government�s move to hand the �domicile certificates� to West Pakistan Refugees. However, Rashid is not alone in the protest �albeit true to form his was different and more dramatic in nature.

Domicile certificates to West Pakistan Refugees trigger new row in J&K

On Friday evening, the independent legislator Engineer Rashid along with a few of his supporters held a sit-in in Srinagar in bitter Chillai-Kalan cold outside the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s residence. He spent the cold night under the cotton-stuffed white coloured quilts, and refused to  budge from the place until the Saturday morning, when police evicted him and his supporters.

Rashid’s protest was against the state government’s move to hand the ‘domicile certificates’ to West Pakistan Refugees. However, Rashid is not alone in the protest –albeit true to form his was different and more dramatic in nature. The separatist, civil society groups including also the major opposition party National Conference has opposed the move, which they argue is geared “to change the demographic composition  of the state”.

“Mehbooba Mufti come t0 your senses. Don’t give domicile certificates to West Pakistan Refugees,” Rashid shouted before being removed by the police.

Similarly, the secessionist outfit Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front termed “the grant of domicile certificates to West Pakistan refugees, a deliberate attempt to change J&K’s demography”.

On Friday, its supremo Yasin Malik led a protest march in Srinagar against the alleged move. “Ever since the PDP-BJP Government took the reins of the state, one or the other issue is being raked up to create confusion and push the majority community to the wall,” Malik said. “First the government triggered controversy by raking up issues like separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits, then exclusive colonies for retired soldiers and now is again issuing domicile certificates to refugees.” .

Hardline chairman of  the Hurriyat G faction was even harsher.

“New Delhi uses all its weapons in its armory—government, political, parliament, and now judicial—to muzzle and cripple us so that we become a cannon fodder for them,” Geelani said in a statement.  “When the deceitful political maneuvering backfires, the so-called mouthpieces of this treason wrap it in the veil of so-called misinterpretation and bury it under callous and mean debris of so-called conspiracy to create unrest to topple its government.”

In its defense, the state government said that it had not issued domicile certificates but only the “identity certificate” to the refugees  which will help them in getting jobs in central government.

“An orchestrated and misleading campaign has been launched to create an impression that the Government is changing the status of the West Pakistan Refugees and they are being provided domicile certificates,” the state government spokesman and the Minister for Education Naeem Akhtar said in a statement. "West Pakistan are not entitled to permanent residence as they are not the domiciles of Jammu and Kashmir".

But this hasn’t helped the matters with even the mainstream National Conference accusing PDP of  diluting the J&K’s State Subject Law and “helping fulfil  a long-cherished desire of the BJP” in doing so.

“It is amply clear that PDP has agreed to help BJP in this goal”, the NC spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu said.  “After deciding to issue domicile certificates to West Pakistan refugees, now the PDP wants to confuse the people between the terminology of ‘identify cards’ and state subject certificate”.

Mattu continued that issuing the certificates to West Pakistan Refugees was totally wrong and deceptive. “It will prove a step forward to grant them other rights which only people of J&K are entitled to,” he added.

West Pakistan Refugees came to J&K from Pakistan during partition. But 70 years later they continue to be the refugees. Unlike their counterparts in other states of India, they didn’t become citizens of J&K. Nor are they allowed to vote in the state polls, buy land or get government employment. However, they are the citizens of India and vote in parliament elections.

The successive governments in J&K have refused to  grant them state citizenship, citing J&K’s special position under Article 370 of the Constitution of India which forbids the people who are not permanent residents from being settled in the state.