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Citizenship denied to refugees from Pakistan - The Times of India

Dwarika Prasad Sharma ()
10 September 1997

Title: Citizenship denied to refugees from Pakistan
Author: Dwarika Prasad Sharma
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 10, 1997

"After ten years of residentship in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere, you can
get citizenship but in Jammu and Kashmir, you can be denied it forever,"
says Hardit Singh Panchhi, chief of the Sharanarthi action committee.

Though Mr Panchhi represents refugees in the state who had fled that part
of it which was occupied by Pakistani "tribal raiders", and who enjoy full
citizenship rights, he was referring to the post-partition refugees to the
state from Pakistan whose families continue to be denied citizenship rights
even at the end of 50 years.

Successive National Conference governments, quoting the citizenship clauses
in the state constitution, have argued that this curb on citizenship
ensures protection of the rights of the state's "permanent residents".
They have argued that the state's citizenship law is protected by a
corresponding provision in the Union constitution.

Though the refugees from Pakistan are known to politically lean towards the
Congress or the BJP (in the assembly election last year, a considerable
number even voted for the BSP), the Congress government in the state
(1965-76) did little to amend the law, though during that period the party
was in the saddle at the Centre as well.

During last year's assembly election, it was a poll issue in the Jammu
region, with even NC chief Farooq Abdullah promising to do something in
this regard. Last year also saw the enactment of what the refugees and
some legal experts have called a "legal contradiction" - the refugees did
not have the voting right for the assembly while, earlier in the year, they
had voted in the Lok Sabha polls.

Apart from having no vote for the assembly, they cannot in particular
acquire immovable property in the state, get a government job, or enjoy the
right to a (state) government scholarship or other aid.

Though no definite figure is available of their number, it is said to be
between 1.5 lakh and two lakh. These refugees are settled in the Jammu

The citizenship issue has been brought into focus yet again as the state,
with the rest of the country is celebrating the golden jubilee of
Independence. The BJP unsuccessfully moved a bill in the monsoon session
of the state assembly seeking amendment of the citizenship law in order to
accommodate the refugee families resident in the state for 50 years and more.

The state's constitution, adopted by its constituent assembly late in 1956,
defines "permanent residents" (entitled to being called state subjects) as
- every person who is, or is deemed to be, a citizen of India under the
provisions of the constitution of India shall be a permanent resident of
the state if, on the 14th day of May 1954 - (a) he is a state subject of
Class I or Class II, or (b) having lawfully acquired immovable property in
the state, he has been ordinarily resident in the state for not less than
ten years prior to that date.

The 1947 refugees from Pakistan thus missed the bus by a margin of three
years, though the framers of the state constitution had plenty of time to
ponder their case.

The official position at that time, reiterated by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah
during his second innings as head of the state government, and not
contradicted since, was that their rehabilitation was a Central subject and
responsibility, as in the case of refugees from Burma, other refugees from
Pakistan and those from Bangladesh.

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