Friday, August 22, 2008

For us camp is the only home


PoK refugees in Jammu and Kashmir are housed in camps scattered across the Jammu, Kathua, Rajouri, Poonch and Udhampur districts. These camps consist of cramped, one-room units that offer their inhabitants very little protection and security. Sanitation and drainage is poor. Residents also lack access to basic healthcare services.

Mishro Devi, a resident of Gadigarh camp, Jammu, migrated from Mirpur to India in 1947. Her children were born and raised at the camp. Trapped in debt and with no prospect of employment, two of her sons committed suicide. Charan Kaur lives in a one-room hut in Bhour camp. Her family fled to India in 1965. “I don’t have any source of income and there is no family member to support me,” says Kaur. “Back home, my father owned several orchards. I never thought I would be forced to live on charity,” she adds.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up five working groups to broaden the scope of the dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir. The groups were set up to deal with confidence-building measures within the state, improve relations across the Line of Control (LoC), monitor good governance, further economic development, and iron out wrinkles in Centre-state relations. Surprisingly, the status, return and rehabilitation of PoK refugees were not on the working groups’ agenda. Nor were representatives of PoK refugee organisations invited to be part of the working groups.

In April 2007, RUF galvanised members of the refugee committee in Jammu to march towards the international border. The rally was scheduled to cross the border and enter PoK as a gesture of protest. The third round-table conference on Kashmir was being held in New Delhi at the time. Though the state police stopped protestors from crossing the border, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad met representatives of the community and assured them that measures would be taken to chalk out an official relief policy. He ordered an all-party committee set up to look into the demands of the refugees.

The committee, which comprised members of prominent political parties in the state including the Congress, National Conference and PDP, was asked to look into two issues -- the comprehensive settlement of PoK refugees and the question of delimitation. Though members of all political parties agreed on the humanitarian issue of refugee rehabilitation, they differed on the issue of delimitation. The committee was disbanded as members could not see eye-to-eye on delimitation due to political differences.

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