Domiciled refugees: What next?

Views from Srinagar

Javaid Iqbal Bhat

IN his book Daastan-i-Hayat, Syed Mir Qasim writes that when Congress entered the politics of Jammu and Kashmir for the first time, it brought along with it the entire dirt and mud from India. Now we are at a different stage of our shabby political process. The Congress is well set into the network of political nerves.
Its existence and ideological operations have normalised to the point of being taken as if the Party was here from the beginning. A new animal with stripes of saffron has made its way into our life. That happened when PDP patron made the grandiose claim of bringing North and South Pole together. He perhaps did not know that in politics there are no poles but partisan interests, and those interests are served better which have the levers of power behind them. As things are moving the metaphorical poles are manifesting as merely poetic words behind which is the bleak reality of realpolitik.
The poles are emerging not as partners but as the relationship of a master and slave. If Congress had brought in the dirt of rest of India into Kashmir, BJP, firmly set in corridors of power, has infiltrated the poison of divisive ideology from the inner veins of its existence. PDP in spite of being a governing partner is becoming a mute facilitator of divisive forces into the body-politic. The issue of Domicile Certificates to West Pakistan refugees is one surgical strike which the coalition partner from Kashmir can ignore to the detriment of the interests of future generations. Every other day is a reminder of the tragic proportion of the error of judgment in seeking to make a common cause with the RSS-driven BJP. The ‘Sharnarthi’ issue is yet another bitter fruit of the mixing up of the North and the South Poles.
The opposition to the Domicile Certificates is based on certain premises. First, is the premise of the Plebiscite and the associated issue of demography; That a Plebiscite is intertwined with the problem of Kashmir. If Domicile Certificate is issued to the refugees it poses a threat to the future result of the Plebiscite. The implicit understanding being that these people will vote for India. The second cause of opposition is that grant of domicile certificate is just a beginning, a first step in the subsequent grant of citizenship rights. The coalition partner BJP has made no bones about its decision to make Domicile Certificate a stepping stone to future award of citizenship. And no one from the PDP has come out against that claim.
The third premise prompting opposition is rooted in local historical consciousness. The way in which Article 370 has been gradually nibbled away by successive governments to its current skeletal form, a similar gradualism will enter into the scheme of the refugees. This BJP government in power introduced domicile certificates, after another period, another Saffron government, or may be the centrist Congress itself, drawing on some other excuse, will grant the same rights to other refugees, like the long staying economic migrants in Kashmir. There is no greater thief than politically motivated precedent. It produces a causal chain of decisions and judgments, all going back for justification to the first precedent.
As it is made out to be the issue is not purely of humanitarian nature. The humanitarian element is a cover for a political project. If it was only humanitarian then there are Rohingyas in Jammu. They are living there since 2009, and just last month, about 80 shanties where they were living mysteriously caught fire. The BJP has openly stated that they are staying in the city illegally and are involved in anti-social activities. Why are there then two yardsticks for the refugees and the Rohingyas? Both are human beings, and deserve equal compassion, and opportunities for economic dignity. However, the situation is that Muslim Rohingyas are illegal and Hindu refugees deserve a steady process into full-fledged citizenship.
The truth is that neither refugees nor Rohingyas have to be made part of any process which has a bearing on the future status of the state. The issue has to be lifted out of the religious domain.
Instead of Domicile Certificates, was there no other option to give them a good human existence? Even if taking them out of Jammu and Kashmir, where they’ve been living for generations is inhuman, is there absolutely no other way to help them out without disturbing the fragile political climate of the state? There can be issued temporary work permits, or may be reservations in other states of India like in the case of the Kashmiri Pandits, who are availing reservations in a number of central Institutes and other states of India. In any case during the last seventy years they were living in Jammu, certainly if their economic opportunities and space for dignified human existence would have been choked they would have migrated to other states, for better conditions of life.
That they did not, implies, if not entirely but to a large measure, that their condition was not such which could have prompted the Government to stir the Domicile controversy. Sometimes the choice of a name can itself play a pacifier than the provocative ‘domicile.’ But then when was the Saffron known not to provoke? The provocations are its staple diet on which it has and will continue to survive.
The BJP, thanks to the coalition support, may eventually become like that camel who initially asked the Arab to give some space for his nose in the tent. Then he got his head and neck inside, and when the Arab woke up from his sleep, requested him if he can get in so that he can support the tent, and both will be comfortable inside. Reassured by the camel’s words he slept, only to wake up and find himself outside the tent and the camel snoring inside.
From the promise of keeping BJP out, we’re now witnessing the promise of gradually being edged out, and from not even having a toe-hold the Saffron has firmly planted itself inside the corridors of power, and is all set to become bolder next to the sleep of the kinsmen and women of the Arab in the tent of Kashmir.

—Courtesy: GK

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