Kashmiris angry over settlement of Pakistan-origin refugees in Jammu & Kashmir

Pakistan on December 22 accused India of settling non-Kashmiris in Jammu in an attempt to change the demographic composition of the region.

Srinagar (26 December, 2016): The reported move of the J&K government to issue domicile certificates to West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) in the state is snowballing into a major controversy with mainstream politicians terming it an attack on the state’s special position while separatists are reiterating their resistance to any such attempt tooth and nail. The independent legislator, Er. Rashid, who also heads Awami Ittehad Party (AIP), held a sit-in outside the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s residence here against the proposed move. The state government pleaded that the refugees have been issued ‘identity’ certificates and not domicile certificates.

A shutdown was observed across the Valley here (December 23) against the proposed move by the state government. The shutdown call was given by the joint separatist leadership including Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Mohammad Yasin Malik. The trio alleged that the move was aimed at changing the state’s demography. They called for a shutdown and protests after Friday congregational prayers on December 23. The joint separatist leadership in a statement here on December 21 had said that issuing domicile certificates to WPRs, court verdict challenging Jammu and Kashmir’s sovereignty and allowing outside banks to confiscate and hold properties in the state were issues of life and death for the Kashmiris. “PDP has again started working on its anti-Kashmir and anti-Muslim agenda but people of Jammu and Kashmir will not hesitate to offer any sacrifice to oppose such actions tooth and nail,” the statement added.

Carrying bannersthat read ‘No domicile for West Pakistan Refugees, stop state dictatorship’ Hurriyat (M) chairman led a protest outside the historic Jama Masjid in the old city here on December 23 against the government’s move. Mirwaiz, while addressing the Friday congregational prayers at Jama Masjid (December 23), threatened to launch an agitation in case the coalition government went ahead with issuing domicile certificates to the refugees from Pakistan. JKLF chief was detained after he tried to stage a protest against the proposed move (December 23). He asserted that he “won’t mind spilling his blood to sabotage the government’s move” as such moves, according to him, were aimed at changing the disputed nature of the state and its Muslim majority character. Malik had gone into hiding a day earlier in order to be able to lead the protest. JKLF’s spokesperson here on December 22 alleged that the ruling dispensation has decided to “change the Muslim majority status of the state”.

United Jihad Council (UJC) in an e-mailed statement to the local news agency KNS (December 23) termed the government’s decision a ploy to change the demographic character of the state. The Council added that Kashmiris won’t allow such kind of happenings. The Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) chairperson Shabir Ahmad Shah in a statement (December 20) here termed the issue unacceptable and stressed that people will resist any such move tooth and nail. “This is a well-planned conspiracy of the Saffron brigade and PDP,” he said. Granting domicile certificates to WPRs, according to Dukhtaran-e-Millat, is a deliberate attempt to change the Muslim character of the state (December 21).

Even mainstream political partiesreactedsharply to the government’s proposed move. State Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir, December 21, said that the Chief Minister should have called an all-party meeting to discuss the issue. Mir on December 23 alleged that the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government was running on the dictation of RSS. According to him, PDP wasn’t ready to even identify WPRs as citizens of India when Congress was in power. He questioned what compelled the party now to take this decision. Senior National Conference leader Ali Mohammad Sagar termed it an attack on the state’s special position. The party’s provincial president Devender Singh Rana at Jammu onDecember 21 cautioned the government against “conspiracy being hatched by BJP in connivance with PDP to dilute the state subject laws in a clandestine manner and covert operations to weaken the special status of the permanent residents of the state.”

Er. Rashid, while addressing a public gathering at Chek Sarmarg, Handwara, in north Kashmir (December 21) termed the move “unacceptable” and asked the Chief Minister to break ties with BJP. “The move to grant domicile certificates to lakhs ofWPRs is a calculated move to change the demography of the state. Government of India is doing exactlywhat Israelis did in Palestine. The move is a desperate attempt to change the Muslim character of the state,” he said. Holding placards that read ‘Refugees are Refugees. Deport them back to Pakistan’ and ‘Issuing domicile to West Pakistan Refugees unacceptable’ Er. Rashid along with his supporters sat on a 48-hour-long sit-inoutside the Chief Minister’s residence on Gupkar road here(December 23) to register protest. The legislator had arrived in an auto rickshaw and sat on the pavement just opposite Chief Minister’s residence. Amid harsh winter chill, his supporters arranged some blankets and kangiris (traditional firepots) for him. Later, a contingent of police forcibly evacuated him to his residence the next day (December 24). A day before (December 22) the legislator demanded revocation of the order while staging protests against it. He was detained and later released.

On the other hand, Vishva Hindu Parishad demanded Permanent Resident Certificates for the WPRs in Jammu division (December 23). While government pleaded that WPRs have been issued ‘identity’ certificates and not domicile certificates, business community and civil society members argued if Aadhaars were already declared as proof of identity what was the need of issuing domicile certificates.

However, the official spokesperson and Minister for Education, Naeem Akhtar in a statement at Jammu on December 22 termed it an orchestrated and misleading campaign launched to create an impression that the government was changing the status of WPRs and they were being provided domicile certificates. He explained that these refugees settled in Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the partition of the subcontinent and they included those from PoK and West Pakistan.“While the refugees from PoK have the status of permanent residents of the state, those from West Pakistan are not entitled to permanent residence as they are not domiciles of the state. Given their present status, the WPRs are entitled to vote in the Parliament elections, but can’t exercise their franchise in the state assembly polls,” said the minister, adding, as the WPRs can’t apply for any job within the state because of being non-state subjects, to facilitate them to get jobs in paramilitary forces and other central government establishments, the government has issued them identity certificates which is in the same format as exists in the voter list for the parliamentary polls. “Issuance of identity certificates does in no way change the status of WPRs and they continue to be non-state subjects,” emphasized the minister.

Even Pakistan on December 22 accused India of settling non-Kashmiris in Jammu in an attempt to change the demographic composition of the region.

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