December 2016 News

Generations Suffer After Being Branded 'refugee'

27 December 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Sumit Hakhoo

Sampurnpur Kullian: For the past 70 years, successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir have not only followed a policy of denying basic rights to West Pakistan refugees (WPRs) but children born and brought up in the state since 1947 also have been deprived of education. It's also a horrible reminder how the special status granted to J&K has been abused by political parties forcing children to leave studies after Class X and Class XII because for joining any professional and technical college in the state they have to produce the state subject certificate, which is exclusively for the residents of J&K. Narrow lanes and mud-brick houses where the refugee families, mostly Dalits, live reminds one of the Nazi-era Jewish ghettos, where education and healthcare are a luxury for the most children who spend their entire life with stigma of being a West Pakistani. About 19,960 families are living in Jammu, Kathua, Samba and Akhnoor. These families are of those refugees who came from Sialkot district of Pakistan to escape the communal carnage during the Partition. 'Without education we remained illiterate and our children too face a bleak future. They can only become labourers and live a life of misery like their elders,' said Ram Singh, a resident of Sampurnpur, located 18 km from Jammu. Children live in poverty, with families surviving in desperate circumstances by picking stones from river beds to sell so to feed families. Some work in fields of other villagers. The Wadhwa Committee of 2007, constituted by the J&K Government, had called for making provisions to allow the refugee children to pursue education but no heed was given to it due to the pressure of separatist and radical elements. 'We have no dreams because we will be forced to leave school. Everybody tells us that we are West Pakistanis and it makes us sad, It makes me cry at times,' said Mamta Devi, a student of Class VIII. For decades now representatives of refugees are fighting for right to education in technical, professional institutions, issuance of SC-OBC certificates and appointment of a Relief Commissioner to look into and redress their grievances. 'Those who came from Pakistan are long dead but we are forced to carry the burden of being a refugee. What would have been fate of former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and late IK Gujral, if they would have lived in J&K,' asked Shamsher Kumar, who wanted to become a teacher but was forced to leave education two years ago because he could not appear for the competitive exam conducted by the state. Many of the elderly people have survived by working as agricultural labourers and their children do the same because there is no escape for them. Women do not get any benefit of different schemes announced for the welfare of girl child by the state.