Can't Vote But West Pak Refugees Enthusiastic For Polls

3 December 2008

Jammu: Though they have no voting rights in Jammu and Kashmir, the three lakh strong West Pakistani Refugees are participating in the poll process with campaigning for several candidates. A 70-year-old West Pakistani refugee, Chajju Ram, participated in a campaign rally of the candidate belonging to a national political party, said, “I know, I can’t vote but I am participating in the poll process but I can collect some votes for the deserving candidate.” The old man, who was just a kid when shifted to Jammu from Sialkot district in Pakistan further said that he knows much about Suchetgarh, the constituency he belongs, but it is their bad luck that they are still treating as outsiders in the state. West Pakistan refugees have strength of more than three lakh people from 32,190 families-earlier came to this side of international border from the Punjab province (now in Pakistan) during the 1947 communal riots and are living in several parts of Jammu region especially in the border villages. After struggling for last 60 years, this section of refugees are yet to become the state subject holders in Jammu and Kashmir that will provide these refugees the right to case the vote in assembly elections. However the West Pakistani refugees can vote for Parliamentary elections. Sources said that majority of West Pakistani Refugees are actively participating in the election process and campaigning for one or other contesting candidate in their respective constituencies. “Officially, West Pakistani Refugee Action Committee is supporting the candidates of Kranti Dal at Hira Nagar, Kathua, Marh, Raipur Domana and Suchetgarh assembly segments,” said Laba Ram Gandhi chairman of the committee and further added, “But the West Pakistani refugees are not bound to support any particular party as we are not eligible, but as our duty towards nation and for the state we are living, any refugee can support any candidate, which he or she feels would fight for our causes.” Laba Ram Gandhi further said, “We have strength of over three lakh people and we also have more than two lakh relatives with citizenship rights, because majority of our children are married in Jammuite families, we can’t vote but we can motivate our relatives to vote for the better candidates.” Though these refugees have been J&K residents for the past 60 years and are Indian citizens, they cannot buy property, get employment in the State or even vote in the assembly elections but they are concerned about the developments of the areas, they are staying. Rashpal Kumar of Hira Nagar is supporting an independent candidate, said, “I am supporting the candidate of my choice and campaigning for him because I know doesn’t matter he will not help to get a job but at least he will develop our area well.” Meanwhile, a candidate from Raipur Domana constituency, Bodh Raj Bhagat, who was supported by number of West Pakistani refugees, while he was filing his nomination papers, said that he knew that they will not vote for him but they can support him.