Jammu: At least 10 lakh people who are at present settled in 39 camps across the Jammu region in Jammu and Kashmir, a majority of whose ancestors migrated to India from the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) during partition, are still "misplaced" even after 72 years of exile, rue refugees.
They believe revocation of Article 370 by the central government, which comes into effect on October 31, will automatically pave their way directly to the central government to get their issues settled, largely rehabilitation.
"We are facing step-motherly treatment over the past seven decades. Frankly speaking, we are not displaced but misplaced," Rajiv Chunni, Chairman of the SOS International Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, an organisation advocating the cause of PoK displaced persons, told IANS here.
He said during Article 370 there was the state within the state. "The state was largely dominated by the Kashmiri leadership, which was against our rehabilitation. In fact, it was not concerned about our issues as they considered us not their vote bank," Chunni, who is born and brought up in India, said.
"Authorities were actually treating us like slaves by not addressing their genuine grievances and demands." The main demand of 10 lakh PoK refugees include increasing the scope of a central package.
The other demands include grant of facilities to all displaced at par with migrants in the valley, reservation of at least eight seats for them in the state Legislative Assembly and permission to visit their religious places in PoK.
Chuni said the PoK refugees have been demanding justice for quite a long time now but none of the governments had listened to them.
He said in November 2015 the Centre had announced a package of Rs 2,000 crore as "one-time settlement" for PoK displaced families living in the state and the benefit could not be taken by those who do not possess the state's domicile.
"For the entire state, the Centre gave more than 2.5 lakh crore from time to time for the development projects. More than 80 per cent of the funds were gobbled up by some of the families. Now with the revocation of Article 370 the funds would be appropriately used," a confident Chunni said.
According to him, over 1.5 lakh families are still residing in transit camps and living deplorable lives in the state. He said around 3,00,000 PoK displaced people who are settled in other states like Punjab and Rajasthan could not take benefit of the central package.
"India is member of the UN but it is not a signatory of UN Refugee Law. So the protection of displaced persons is confined to immorality taken by the government of India so far, leaving a little protection for their civil and political rights," Chunni said.
According to him, India has neither granted them the status of refugee nor identified as Internally Displaced Persons. The central government labelled them as displaced persons. "We have never been informed on what basis we have been designated as displaced persons," he rued.
The PoK displaced demanded that at least one-third of 24 vacant seats must be opened and filled with their representatives. This will politically empower their community which has no representation either in the state Assembly or Parliament, besides having the right to exercise franchise in both the elections.
"We are now hopeful the Modi government after scrapping Article 370 will consider our long-pending demand to give us due representation in the state Assembly. Eight seats must be reserved for us to give our representation," Chuni added.
Experts say 10 lakh PoK displaced persons, comprising the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and the Christians, are seeking a share of one-third of the 24 reserved constituencies in the assembly that falls now in the geographical location of PoK.
As per their current population in Jammu and Kashmir, they are seeking creation of eight seats out of the erstwhile 24 seats in the 87-member state Legislative Assembly.
-By Vishal Gulati