Good Migrants, Bad Migrants

  • Muhammad Zaayef
  • Publish Date: Feb 2 2017 6:12PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 2 2017 6:12PM
Good Migrants, Bad Migrants

                                                       Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi

It’s ironic that Jammu-based political parties oppose settlement of Muslim migrants up to 1953 but rally behind the West Pakistan refugees, who are mainly Hindus


Seventy years on, Jammu and Kashmir Assembly yet again saw itself grappling the question of migration; in fact, a litany of them. The 2017 Assembly session, however, will stand out for Valley-centric regional powers, especially National Conference (NC), departing from its traditional stand to resettle Muslim migrants who became the victim of the Partition between 1947 and 1953.

 The working president of J&K’s oldest political party NC, Omar Abdullah, stole the headlines by bringing a rare resolution on migrants, but only of a particular period.

“It has been 27 years since people left the Valley. We should all come together so that Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and even Muslims, who left Kashmir due to the turmoil (since 1990), can be resettled and made to come back to their homes,” said Mr. Abdullah in his passionate appeal.

Junior Abdullah’s resolution saw an overwhelming response from otherwise bête noire ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Peoples Democratic Party. In unison, J&K Assembly Speaker Kavinder Gupta's call for “creating a conducive atmosphere for the migrants’ safe return” was given a thumbs  up by most parties in the form of a resolution.

The resolution exposes the new politics espoused by the NC and the PDP. Once advocate of resettlement of Muslim migrants, displaced between 1947 and 1953, both these parties have either given in to what populism demands in Jammu and New Delhi. The NC has gone a step further by forgetting its own bill passed in the spring of 1980 on March 8.

The NC dropping the Resettlement Bill  in fact reeks of political shift where NC patron Farooq Abdullah’s approach to acknowledge the Line of Control (LoC) as border gains legitimacy. Splitting migrant problem before and after 1990 only serves the politics that flows from the hyper-nationalist Centre.  Is NC and PDP appropriating New Delhi migrant politics in J&K? The question remains unanswered.

The process of pronouncing migrants as “good” and “bad” started long before Hurriyat leaders’ apprehensions over granting  domicile rights to West Pakistan refugees, who are distinct from local displacement that took place in 1947 and 1965.

The reluctance to address the migrant issue indeed came first from the then President Giani Zail Singh who instead of issuing an order decided to seek opinion “as to whether the bill or any of the provision thereof, if enacted, would be constitutionally invalid”.

The bill referred to here is J&K Resetltlement Bill that was introduced on March 8, 1980 and became law in April 1982 with both the lower and upper house of the Legislative Assembly passing it.

B. K. Nehru, the then governor, decided to return the bill on September 18, 1982 seeking “reconsideration”. However, both the houses passed it again without any change on October 4, 1982. Since then the bill awaits presidential nod, which never came.

A five-member constitutional bench, comprising chief justice S P Barocha, Justice Syed Shah Qadri, Justice N Santosh Hegde, Justice S N Variava and Justice Shivraj V Patil returned the bill unanswered on November 8, 2001. “It appears to us inexpedient to answer the question posed to us in the (presidential) reference,” the bend observed.

In winter of 2002, to scuttle any implementation, the Jammu-based Panthers Party supremo Bhim Singh for the first time labeled migrants as “bad ones”. Singh argued the Act would become a “tool for the entry of terrorists into the state where over 50,000 people have become victims of militant activities.”

The Act was challenged before the Supreme Court with Singh arguing “its implementation had threatened the unity and integrity of the country”. “More than two lakh Pakistanis including descendants of those who were born in Pakistan and many of them trained under Taliban will come if the Act implemented".

The SC --- with a bench comprising Chief Justice G B Pattanaik, Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice S B Sinha --- immediately staying the Act from realizing what could have been the first step towards addressing the migrant problem of J&K. It indeed gave birth to the idea of “bad” migrant.

It’s ironic that Jammu-based political parties oppose settlement of Muslim migrants up to 1953 but rally behind the West Pakistan refugees, who are mainly Hindus. On the contrary, most separatist groups are for settlement of migrants holistically, except for non-residents of J&K.

In 1982 a Law was passed by Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for the return and rehabilitation of 500,000 people who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 from Jammu. Today a Resolution  has been passed for the return of those who migrated to Jammu since 1990. If the law has been undermined after so many years, I pray that this resolution doesn't meet the same fate.

As solution to migrant problems remains elusive, the focus exclusively on post-1990 migration may only address the polity of a particular region rather than the entire gambit of displacement.

The only voice in the Assembly that took a stand opposite to the unanimous resolution was independent legislator Engineer Rashid. He appealed to Pakistan “to make an unconditional offer to the families to come back to their ancestral places”, while referring to the West Pakistan refugees.

Mocking at the NC and the PDP over the historic Resettlement Bill, Rashid said, “The Act provided honourable return and resettlement of all migrants forced to leave the state in 1947. By advocating for West Pakistan refugees and forgetting its own Bill and native citizens of the state, all the main political parties stand badly exposed today,” said Rashid.