Hindu and Sikh refugees living near India-Pakistan borders, better known as West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) left their homes in Pakistan decades back during the 1947 partition. However, the word Pakistan never stopped chasing them.
Generally, domicile is understood as the status of being a lawful permanent resident in a particular jurisdiction. A person can remain domiciled in a jurisdiction even after he has left it, if he maintains sufficient links with it. Now, apply this definition to Hindu and Sikh refugees who crossed over into areas in Jammu from adjacent areas of Sialkot and other areas which became Pakistan.
These refugees had entered Jammu, which became a part of India, in 1947. They didn’t maintain any links whatsoever with Pakistan, from where they had barely escaped. They thus lost domicile of the areas from which they had forsaken irrevocably.
They were settled, mostly all along border, in several ‘tehsils’ of the Jammu province. However, successive Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) governments systematically worked against them and did not give them domicile status.
They were denied Permanent Resident Certificates (PRCs) which were reserved for the domiciles of the state. They got citizenship of India but had very limited rights within J&K in the absence of PRCs.
In fact, it created two types of Indian citizens within the state. Indian citizens living in J&K who were non-Permanent Residents and PRC holders. Non-PRs like West Pakistan Refugees living in the state had far inferior rights as compared to the PRs.
Limited residency rights meant they were not eligible to vote in state assembly and panchayat elections. It also meant that their children were denied access to scholarships, admissions to professional colleges and even loans given by the state government.
All this had the legal sanction of J&K Constitution, Part III of which comprising Sections 6 to 10, defined Permanent Residents. In turn, this right to define PRs was given to the state legislature by Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution.
This article was added to the Indian Constitution by a Presidential order of May 14, 1954. It was not debated in Parliament – neither Lok Sabha nor Rajya Sabha – and this amendment of the Constitution was done behind the backs of MPs.
Due to the anomalous manner in which the Constitutional amendment was carried out, it was placed in Appendix I of the Constitution. Not in the main body. Incidentally, Article 21-A appears between Article 21 and 22. Similarly, other articles carrying capital A with them are insertions between two articles. They can be found at appropriate places but 35-A is not to be found between Article 35 and 36.
In fact, most articles with capital letters A, B, C and so on appearing with them were empowering. They empowered the people they dealt with. On the contrary, 35-A disempowered and immensely harmed those people to whom it was applied.
According to “State Subjects” laws formulated during Maharaja Hari Singh’s rule on April 20, 1927, continuous residence of 10 years was enough for anyone to acquire domicile of J&K.
To disable WPRs and other groups like them, the state legislature (Constituent Assembly of J&K) put May 14, 1944, as an arbitrary cut-off date. Saying only those people who had entered the state before that date were eligible for PR-ship.
Going by this 10 years’ residency clause prescribed by the Maharaja, WPRs could have become eligible for getting PRCs by 1957. However, as pointed out earlier, they were barred by the legislature in 1954, seven years after they had settled in the state.
Similar disabilities were faced by at least 277 families of Valmikis who were brought in from Punjab to Jammu in 1957 by J&K government itself. They were also not given PRCs, and their next generations suffered the same fate.
Gorkhas from Nepal, who were recruited in Maharaja’s armed forces and gave their blood while defending J&K, were also denied PRCs as a consequence of 35-A.
On August 5, 2019, however, far-reaching changes were initiated in the Indian Constitution to empower them. Article 35-A, which was the reason for all their woes was done away with. Several other changes have also been brought in since then to gradually confer all rights which they were entitled to, morally, legally and ethically.
In May 2020, new domicile rules were framed in the Union Territory of J&K and these people, named above, have started getting domicile certificates now.
The gross injustice done to WPRs, Valmikis and Gorkhas is now being rectified.
The issuance of domicile certificates to some groups of non-PRs is being portrayed as attempts to change the demographics of J&K. These narratives are nothing short of deliberate mischief aimed at distortion of facts. To distract attention away from the unfair treatment meted out to WPRs, Valmikis and Gorkhas. The mischief is being sought to be done in the name of the Maharaja who was exiled from J&K unfairly.