5,700 families from erstwhile West Pakistan could not vote

Jammu and Kashmir saw unprecedented participation in the just-concluded Assembly elections, but members of over 5,700 refugee families from erstwhile West Pakistan could not exercise their franchise, despite having resided in the state for the past 67 years.

They voted in the Lok Sabha elections just six months ago, but could not do so in the November-December polls as the state Constitution does not allow them to exercise their franchise in Assembly or local body elections because they do not have permanent-resident status.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on Monday took up the issue of restricting voting rights of people from the families who had settled in the state in 1947 during partition, and strongly recommended that the Centre take up the issue with the state government.

The Centre has frequently written to the state on conferring permanent resident status to these refugees, the last being on November 7.
According to state government records, 47,215 persons from 5,674 families migrated from Pakistan and settled in Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri districts during Partition.

These refugees were not given permanent-resident status in 1947 as they came from the erstwhile West Pakistan, which was not under the territory governed by the then Maharaja, while others were given such status. Describing the refugees “very much citizens of India”, the report prepared by the Parliamentary committee noted that “they are not leading the life of free citizens”, despite having lived here for more than 60 years.

Noting that they have right to vote, the panel said this has “not earned” them any special benefit. It urged the Centre to impress upon the state to consider these refugees' demand to grant them permanent-resident status so they “live as state subjects in a dignified way with all legal rights, including the right to vote in state Assembly”.

During their submissions, the refugees' representatives informed the panel that they do not have voting rights in the state and cannot purchase land. They are also ineligible for state government jobs or social welfare schemes. Due to non-protection of their rights, they alleged, they were living as “slaves” in the state.

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