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Jammu & Kashmir : Refugees and Their Right to Vote

Posted by Admin on November 11, 2014 | Comment

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With Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections round the corner, the demand for voting rights has again resurfaced among the refugees in the state. Most of them had migrated to the state during the wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971 from Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). Let alone the property rights, this chunk of population doesn’t have the right to vote during the state elections and contribute towards the greater consensus when it comes to electing people’s representatives. However, these refugees have voting rights for the parliamentary elections.

Jammu & Kashmir  Refugees and Their Right to Vote

The Legal Complications regarding Voting Rights in J & K

Those who had dislocated from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir had been accorded the status of state subjects. However, the West Pakistani migrants in Kashmir (born in Pakistan) are not considered the subjects of state since they were not born in J&K. The Article 6 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution has a provision of granting citizenship to only those who are either state subjects or “have lawfully acquired immovable property in the state” before 1954.

These refugees, therefore, are prevented from getting government jobs or even a ration card. Hence, they continue to live without an identity and voting rights even after six decades.

The J&K State Subject Act of 1927 had given state subject rights only to hereditary citizens of the state. According to the Act, the State Subject includes all those people “born and residing within the state before the commencement of the reign of the late Maharaja Ghulab Singh Sahib Bahadur, and also who settled therein before the commencement of Samvat year 1942, and have since been permanently residing therein.”

BJP to give right to vote to West Pakistani refugees if it wins ?

BJP government at the centre has seized the opportunity of winning the confidence of the refugee population in Kashmir ahead of the Assembly elections. In its poll manifesto, the party has articulated that it will ensure that West Pakistani refugees are given all rights, including the right to vote. Simultaneously, the party has included ‘Abrogation of Article 370’ as one of the crucial elements of ‘Mission-44’ it has launched in the state. The fallacy of the Article is considered one of the main hurdles towards giving them the right to vote.

It’s to be noted that more than 1 lakh refugees spread across three districts of Jammu, Samba and Kathua had voiced their support for BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Earlier, BJP president Amit Shah assured the people of the state that “all issues” of the refugees will be settled by the Modi government. However, he added that the granting of voting rights for Assembly rights comes under the domain of state government.

Meanwhile, the National Conference (ruling party) professed that there was no need to scrap the constitutional provision to give West Pakistani refugees their rights. The party chief Devender Singh Rana had asserted that these refugees could be given the right to vote under the existing legal framework and without scrapping Article 370. As per the latest media reports, the Kashmir government is in talks with the relevant stakeholders to give these refugees the citizenship and voting rights, which wouldn’t need revocation of Article 370.

WBSG10.11.2014

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