Jammu’s West Pakistani refugees finally get a voice in Assembly polls

Thousands of West Pakistani refugees settled in Jammu can now for the first time play a key role in determining the outcome of the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

There are close to 150,000 West Pakistani refugees living in Jammu, having come to settle here after Independence. Being citizens of India they could contest and vote in the parliamentary elections but since they were not born in Jammu and Kashmir they could not contest or vote in state elections and were denied state government jobs.

The abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, has cleared their way for voting in the assembly elections.

The BJP had promised rights to the refugees which included the right to vote, to own property, and get access to higher education and state government jobs.

Kumkarsin Saini, a West Pakistani refugee living at Bari Brahmana in Jammu, says being a West Pakistani refugee in Jammu and Kashmir meant a life of unequal opportunities.

Saini said the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A will benefit refugees like him. His son started working as a private employee after failing to secure a government job for a monthly salary of 6000 rupees.

The family was allotted a house after they came from Pakistan to India in 1947. Back in Jammu they could not buy any property as the rules didn’t permit them to do that. Fifteen years ago his father-in-law gave him a plot but he could not get that transferred to his name due to restrictions imposed by Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

“The discrimination has ended now. My son can now get a government job,” Saini said.

Laba Ram Gandhi, West Pakistani refugee leader, told IANS that the main demand of the West Pakistani refugees has been the abrogation of Article 370. He said PM Modi fulfilled the promises he made to the refugees.

He said the government has made many announcements which favour the West Pakistani refugees but the processes for their implementation are slow.

“Only the BJP led government could abrogate Article 370. Other governments in the past made no effort to do that,” Gandhi said. “We are very thankful to the BJP for that.”

Gandhi said the places inhabited by the West Pakistani refugees lacked basic facilities because the local MLAs never paid any heed to their problems. “Since they were aware that we didn’t have voting rights, they didn’t care, but that is going to change now,” he said.

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