National

The Forgotten Refugees From West Pakistan In Jammu

During the turbulent days of Partition, thousands arrived from Sialkot and other regions of West Pakistan in late 1947 and settled in various parts of Jammu.

Pakistani refugees gather to receive their Indian citizenship certificates
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Labha Ram Gandhi wears a smile as he sits in his office in Jammu, engaging with the people who come to visit him—most are from the West Pakistan refugee community. He assures them that they will soon receive the same rights as other citizens of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We are acquiring a domicile right which is a significant achievement. The Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir has already declared that we will be granted land rights. All of this has happened after the abrogation of Article 370. The Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir had nothing for us,” Gandhi, the chairman of the West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee, established in 2003, says. 

In May, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, addressing a gathering in Jammu, announced that ownership rights of lands to West Pakistani Refugees will be ensured on the directions of the Central Government.

Like other West Pakistani refugees, Gandhi’s father migrated to Jammu from the Sialkot area of Pakistan during the tumultuous year of 1947. These refugees are predominantly composed of 80 per cent Scheduled Castes, 10 per cent OBC, and 10 per cent from the General Category. The majority of them reside in Jammu, Kathua, and Samba. Most of the West Pakistan Refugees work as farmers and agricultural labourers.

Marvi Salthia, assistant professor at the Christ University, Bangalore, has extensively worked on West Pakistani refugees. She says that during the turbulent days of partition, these people arrived from Sialkot and other regions of West Pakistan in late 1947, settling in various parts of Jammu, particularly in Kathua and RS Pura areas. The primary reason for their migration to Jammu was the connectivity between Sialkot and Jammu via the Sialkot Railway link and road.

Prof. Salthia says in 1947, some West Pakistani refugees contemplated relocating to Punjab, where their relatives had already settled. However, they received information from the government that there was no need to move. They were informed that the state government had abundant vacant land in Jammu for them. Encouraged by the promise of land and other rights, they settled in the border belt of Jammu district, where Muslim families had previously resided, Marvi added.
However, after the advent of refugees from Pakistan-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the state government’s priority shifted to the new arrivals from different parts of Jammu and Kashmir, she says.

While the government stated that the number of refugees amounted to 5,764 families, comprising 47,215 individuals, Gandhi claims that they are 22,160 families with over 1,50,000 people. In May 1954, the West Pakistani refugees were allotted 46,666 kanals (5,833 acres) of land by the state government. The land was allocated in Akhnoor, RS Pura, Bishnah, Samba, Hiranagar, and Kathua districts in Jammu region.

“While the land was allocated to us, we were not given legal ownership. We were treated as outsiders, unable to sell the land since it was not in our names,” Gandhi says.

The refugees were not given voting rights in state elections. However, they possessed voting rights in parliamentary elections. The regional political parties in Jammu and Kashmir perceived the issue of West Pakistani refugees as a consequence of the legacy of Partition. 

From 1990 onwards, the separatist parties opposed any move to grant them state citizenship, arguing that it would alter the region’s demographic balance. Eventually, regional political parties also adopted this stance.

The first initiative by a state government to confer permanent rights upon the refugees took place during the Congress-National Conference government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad. In 2007, the Azad government established a committee to address the issue of the West Pakistani Refugees. The committee, chaired by G D Wadhwa, the then Financial Commissioner (Revenue), said that the refugees were indeed Indian citizens. However, granting them Permanent Resident Certificates necessitated an amendment to the State Constitution. The committee stated that the decision rested with the state government.

Marvi says according to Section 6 of the J&K Constitution, comprising the state subject notifications issued by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927 and 1932, the West Pakistan Refugees are not covered under any category of Permanent Residents. 
The committee recommended a special package for them, along with reserved caste benefits.

In contrast, the Jammu and Kashmir government promptly granted citizenship and voting rights to 36,384 refugee families from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, as they were originally from the state. The government allocated 6,80,850 kanals of Evacuee Property land and approximately 2,43,000 kanals of state land to these families, providing absolute ownership in respect of the state land. Occupancy rights were also granted concerning the Evacuee Property land allotted to these displaced persons.

According to a 2014 report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on “problems faced by refugees and displaced persons in J&K”, the then Home Secretary stated: “Legally speaking, the issue is that these people (West Pakistani refugees) were not the owners of land in Jammu and Kashmir in 1944. They were not ‘sahib-e-jaidad’. So, legally speaking, they do not have the right to claim to be permanent residents. That is the legal part of it. Now, we come to the second part. They are not permanent residents for the very simple reason that they were living in the then West Pakistan.”

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“In 1947, these 5,764 families came and settled in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The then Government allowed them to stay on the land. A part of that land was the State land and another part of that land was the evacuee property land belonging to the people of Jammu and Kashmir who had left J&K and gone over to Pakistan... Now, how and when the State Government will grant them Permanent Resident status is a political question to which we, at this juncture, cannot give a reply to. The Central Government has been writing to the State Government frequently.”

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The issue of West Pakistani refugees gained prominence following the migration of Kashmiri Pandits to Jammu. “When these Kashmiri migrants settled in Jammu in 1990, they started receiving benefits from both the state and central governments. This seemed to inspire the West Pakistani refugees, leading them to register their organisation in 2003,” Marvi says.

And Gandhi emerged as their passionate advocate. A former havaldar in the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, Gandhi would take out processions and meet politicians in Delhi, Srinagar, and Jammu. “I have met all for the West Pakistani Refugee cause,” he says.

In 1982, a refugee Bachan Lal Kalgotra filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, seeking resident status for the West Pakistani refugees. However, the court dismissed the petition saying: “In light of the constitutional situation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, we do not see any possible relief we can offer to the petitioner and those in similar circumstances.” 

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During an all-party meeting aimed to discuss the Wadhwa Committee report, the National Conference and the PDP opposed recommendations. The National Conference drew a parallel between the issue and the Resettlement Act, which was aimed at providing the right to return to those who migrated to POK from Jammu and Kashmir. The NC argued if inhabitants of J&K who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 cannot be resettled in J&K, then those who arrived from Pakistan should also not be settled.

With the revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A, which granted special status and citizenship rights to Jammu and Kashmir, the situation for West Pakistani refugees, Gandhi says, will change for good.

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Sudesh Kumar, a West Pakistani refugee from Jamral village of Kathua, says their fight is from the generations. “I remember Desh Raj. He would fight for our rights. He was from Sialkot. Later the fight was taken by Labha Ram,” he says. 

Kumar fought the Panchayati elections in 2011 and won. But the defeated candidate complained that he is West Pakistani Refugee and is not a citizen of J&K. “Now I will be able to fight elections,” he adds. Kumar has three daughters, all graduates, but none of them have government jobs as they were not eligible. “We have been deprived of our rights for long. We are forgotten refugees. Our children cannot compete with other children. We need a reservation,” he adds.

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