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Doors shut for return of Muslim migrants of Kashmir

After revoking special status, India scraps law permitting Kashmiri residents who had migrated to Pakistan to return

SRINAGAR: India has scrapped a 37-year-old law in Jammu and Kashmir that permitted the return of its residents who fled to Pakistan from 1947-1954, says a government notification.

After revoking special provision of Indian constitution, granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh regions on Aug. 5, the government has announced the scrapping of further 152 laws, that also included the Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Permit for Resettlement in the State Act.

The law adopted by the state legislature in 1982, though never operational, was providing a glimmer of hope for Kashmiri Muslim migrants to return and resettle in their homes.

Many divided families living in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Pakistan were awaiting operationalization of this law over the past 37-years to return to their homes.

But after its scrapping, the hopes have been shattered, says Khalid Wasim, a Srinagar-based journalist. His uncle Khalid Iqbal, living in Pakistan was awaiting operationalization of this law to return to Srinagar, till he passed away recently as an immigrant.

“Closing doors on thousands of Muslim families and at the same time granting citizenship in Kashmir to Hindus who had fled under similar circumstances, clearly indicates that abolition of this law is motivated by ideological and religious reasons,” said Wasim.

“Abolition of this law is also in sync with their vicious policy of undermining the Muslim-majority character of Jammu and Kashmir. History testifies to the fact that Jammu had a sizeable population of Muslims who were driven out by murderous mobs,” he added.

The Jammu region of the erstwhile state had witnessed one of the bloody communal riots soon after India and Pakistan were granted independence in 1947. British historian Alex Von Tunzelmann records that more or less the entire Muslim population of Jammu, amounting to half a million people, was displaced.

Legal battle

Soon after the law was adopted by the state legislature in 1982, then President of India Giani Zail Singh had referred it to the Supreme Court for its opinion, thus staying its operationalization. In 2001, the Indian apex court declined to give its opinion.

When the law was now about to be implemented, a Jammu-based politician Harsh Dev Singh filed a writ petition, seeking quashing of the law. The Supreme Court stayed its implementation in February 2002, till the final adjudication.

According to the law, victims of religious violence could have reclaimed their properties. The properties are currently under the custody of the government, under the Evacuees Property Act.

“Some of these properties have been allotted to Hindu refugees who had settled in Jammu. Reclaiming the properties will create law and order problems,” Dev argued in his petition.

On Dec. 13, 2018, months before Kashmir was divested of its autonomy, the Supreme Court asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to file details about the number of migrants or their descendants, who had applied for the permission to return to Kashmir.

A month later, the state replied that so far nobody had applied for the return, as the law was never notified, a necessary step before seeking applications.

According to Abdul Rahim Rather, a former lawmaker who had piloted the law in the Assembly in 1980, the legal battle has now become infructuous, since the law no longer exists in the statute book.

According to the Delhi Agreement of 1952 enacted between Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and leader of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Kashmiri citizens, who were forced to migrate to Pakistan in the wake of disturbances, were entitled to seek rights and privileges to return to their homes.

Hasnain Masoodi, a former judge of Jammu and Kashmir High Court, currently a member of Indian parliament, said the recent events that included scraping of special status would not affect the litigation process.

The court has already admitted a petition challenging scrapping of autonomy and is slated to hear it on Jan. 21.

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