The displacement of people in Jammu and Kashmir is as old as the partition of the Indian sub- continent. Millions of people fled from the adjoining areas of Pakistan, mostly from Sialkot district. These refugees, 80 percent of which belong to Scheduled Castes, migrated during the partition from Sialkot in Pakistan to Jammu in Jammu and Kashmir. Thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees started entering into Jammu district from surrounding districts that had been marked to become the part of Pakistan. These refugees settled in the Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 were not considered as citizens of the erstwhile State. The partition saw the emergence of two nations India and Pakistan accompanied by a series of communal riots, immense destruction, loss of lives and displacement of millions of people from either side of the International border. Those who came to the Indian side, mainly Hindus and Sikhs settled in the course of time at different parts of the country. However, for those who came to the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) from West Pakistan, the situation was different owing to the disputed and unsettled nature of the Kashmir issue and promulgation of Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian Constitution.As the time passed by, the West Pakistan ‘refugees’ in J&K realized that several of their human rights were violated and they were deprived of their territory, home and their very identity. They faced problems related to food, shelter, health and employment. Neither they were treated at par with the refugees in other parts of India, nor did they had the basic rights of land ownership, livelihood, and right to participate and stand in the Assembly or Panchayat elections, or vote in local bodies in the erstwhile state of J&K. Settled in different parts of the region, particularly in Jammu, they have come together and formed an association to take up their grievances with the government. However, Article-370 proved a major roadblock in effective redressal of their grievances. The families, who settled in other parts of the country, are enjoying all fundamental and other basic human rights. But these ‘refugees’ settled in the erstwhile State of J&K in 1947, even after 65 years were not provided fundamental and other basic human rights. They had been denied State Subject benefits of the State, as they were not considered permanent residents of the state. They couldn’t own property; they couldn’t get government jobs and faced discrimination in the matter of admission in technical institutions. They were also denied employment in the prominent institutions of the State. They couldn’t even vote or contest Assembly elections, they couldn’t vote/contest Panchayat election or local bodies in J&K and couldn’t avail other benefits, provided to the citizens of the erstwhile State. The people displaced from West Pakistan in 1947 are presently putting up in the areas adjoining India and Pakistan border right from Jourian in Jammu district to Kathua district. As per official records, their population at present is about 1.5 lakh. They had been denied permanent resident status of erstwhile J&K State. They are living on evacuee property and some State land occupied by them since 1947, but do not have ownership rights on the property. The announcement of the Government of India of abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution ushered in a new ray of hope for the refugees from West Pakistan. With the abrogation of the Article 370, their long pending demand of being given the citizenship of Jammu and Kashmir was finally fulfilled. Also, the severe discrimination against the refuges of West Pakistan in the field of Jobs, employment, education, government schemes which was perpetuated by the Article-370 is now a thing of the past. With the abrogation of the controversial Article, these people are now availing benefits of the Central reservation schemes for people belonging to scheduled castes and other backward castes, of which they had been deprived till now.Also, with the implementation of the Central laws in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the Right to Education (RTE) is now applicable in the region thus allowing the children belonging to the deprived sections of the society to have access to high quality education free of cost. The refugees from West Pakistan are now having an equal right over the employment opportunities in the Union territory of Jammu Kashmir which wasn’t the case till Article-370 existed. These developments will further motivate the younger generation to have high hopes and aspirations from their careers. They can now avail the vast opportunities especially in the field of education, employment and other avenues for the betterment of their future.The abrogation of Article-370 has ushered in an era of new possibilities and opportunities for the refugees from West Pakistan. For the first time since their displacement, they are made to believe themselves as being equal citizens of the land on which they live and work. ‘Sky is the Limit’ for the new generation youth of the West Pakistan refugees as the chains of bondage has been finally unshackled and their wings have been set free to live the life of their dreams.
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