From 1947, when Maharaja Hari Singh threw Jammu and Kashmir in the hands of the Indian government, followed by the occupation of the latter by Indian troops, and then in 2019, the abrogation of Article 370A aggravated the already precarious condition of the Kashmiri Muslim majority. The conflict from the very start caused forced displacement and expulsion of Muslims across Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir into AJK, Pakistan, leading to various humanitarian concerns. Reflecting back on the Dogra Army atrocities, Khan, a senior retired officer of that time, shared the following: “To be honest that was a mad period. There was no humanity shown at that time.” About half a million people were displaced into Pakistan, and it’s administered in Kashmir. “The incident divided families. There were a lot of Muslims in Jammu but now you won’t find many,” Khan told Al Jazeera. Displaced Kashmiris went through deteriorating state in refugee camps.
Kashmiris had to face conflict-driven migration in huge numbers across Azad Jammu and Kashmir and other cities in Pakistan against the backdrop of a series of events such as 1947–48, 1965–1971, and then in the 1990s and onwards. Cruelties by Indian security forces causing injustices, repression of freedom of speech, rapes of women in front of their families, unlawful arrests, mass killings, sexual abuse, and forced disappearances became reasons for the tremendous exodus of Kashmiri people. They are residing in AJK as refugees.
The following responses from refugees highlight the thrashing causes of their migration.
Abdul Rasheed, who migrated in 1994, said, “I was arrested three times and interrogated on suspicions of acting as a guide to militants [in Jammu and Kashmir]. I pleaded innocence. But was tortured,”
Another refugee, Mohammad Ilyas told, “Our village was close to LOC and one fine day, troops descended on the village and asked us to vacate places. There was no place to go, but to cross the LOC,
The plight of Kashmiri refugees’ migration, which started long ago, has not attracted as much attention and concern as other worldwide refugee problems have.
The main matter of concern that must draw the attention of responsible authorities is the bizarre situation of Kashmiri refugees, called by various names like IDPS, Muhajirs, and refugees. Kashmir is a unique case as its migrants are not recognised as refugees by the United Nations. UNHCR’s stance regarding migrated Kashmiris is that they are considered IDPs who moved from one place to another within the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. They aren’t registered with UNHCR and other non-governmental organisations. Abdul Majid Khan, former AJK Minister of Rehabilitation stated, “The 1990 Kashmiri refugees are treated as first-class citizens of Pakistan. They have all the rights that a local person of Azad Jammu and Kashmir has: they have the citizenship, right to buy property in Pakistan and AJK, right to vote and every right that the locals of AJK enjoy.”
40,000 Kashmiri migrants are living in camps in Muzaffarabad. In addition to this, about 500 families live in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
It may be assumed that Kashmiri refugees, once entering the AJK through crossing the LOC, will no longer be in trouble and will receive all the rights similar to those of AJK nationals. On the ground, reality is different.
Kashmiris have to go through many health issues while crossing the LOC to abscond from Indian army brutalities. These include frostbite, other ailments, losing their limbs because of mines, other injuries, psychological problems, and malnutrition due to no food and water on their way. Due to unhygienic conditions in camps, they are exposed to diseases like typhoid, stomach disorders, and respiratory disorders. The employment problem is another difficulty faced by migrants. Those having contacts in AJK are better off in terms of jobs or business with the help of local supporters. Educated refugees are unable to figure out jobs in correspondence with their qualification level. Similarly, those migrants who had a better way of earning before migration don’t want to pursue ordinary jobs. No proper systematic procedures had been developed to utilize skilled craftsmen among refugees. There were no schools established at the camps. However, there are public educational institutions providing free education to the refugees. Primary education was made mandatory for refugee children by the AJK government. Families from rural and mountainous areas feel hesitation regarding girls’ education. Camps near cities find it accessible to gain education at public institutions, but for those living far away from cities, accessing education is quite troublesome for them. Most importantly, women are prone to the education issue as patriarchy and unawareness about women’s empowerment and contribution are prevalent. Families are also worried about the religious education of their children. Mosques and madrassas have been built for these purposes at the camps. 90% of refugees send their younger generation with the purpose of education, as they are very sensitive about educational needs. The Kashmir refugees are also facing injustice related to the right implementation of the government’s job’ quota set for refugees. Political workers are accommodated in reserved seats rather than selecting candidates based on merit and competition. Refugee leader Ghazali told The Express Tribune that 40 competent Kashmiri refugees didn’t achieve selection in the police department despite passing all required tests and interviews. Reflecting on another issue, which is violence often generated due to basic needs such as water and relief distribution, Various disputes occur between two distinct refugee groups, the Kapwara Group and the Baramula Group. Crimes like theft, female harassment, annoyance, etc. appear day by day. Conciliation committees have been structured to resolve such issues, but those didn’t achieve any sustainable and acceptable solutions. Another notion that must be kept in mind is that refugees basic needs are freely being met by the AJK government; this might be shaping their mind-set not to engage in productive work. Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan fear they will never be allowed to return to their previous homeland, especially after the revocation of Kashmir’s status. Muzafarabad-Srinagar bus service for crossing points exhibits tough procedures for acquiring travel and permit entries. This increases the misery of Kashmiris.
Keeping in view the above plight of Kashmiri refugees, genuine efforts are a need of time rather than just making petty efforts for the sake of developing a positive image internationally. To improve the living conditions of Kashmiri refugees, long-term solutions must be developed. Political, diplomatic, economic, and social efforts are required collectively.
Active international lobbying should be done to build pressure on the Indian government to stop atrocities and suppression of the human rights of Kashmiris. Skill development programmes must be initiated to promote a sense of self-building and compete nationally and globally. Special attention to Kashmiri women’s empowerment should be put at the top of the list. Farming and cottage industries are areas that can help improve employment deprivation. NGOs and other welfare organisations should be engaged and coordinated for the uplifting of the refugees. Camp sustainability needs to be improved. Hygienic food and water availability, better sanitation, medical care, education facilities, and other human welfare areas should be focused on. Implementation of quotas must be ensured. Trading at the local level should be enhanced and promoted rather than hijacked by elites benefiting at the expense of local producers. Education is the main area where active reforms are necessarily required. Reforms in the educational syllabus should espouse Kashmiri cultural identity, traditions, language, and values. The syllabus must meet advanced-time requirements. The gap between academics and industry should be reduced, thus uplifting AJK’s educational and economic prosperity.
In the on-going Kashmir conflict catastrophe, Kashmiris are being victimized. Pakistan, considering Jammu and Kashmir as its jugular vein, must effectively facilitate the Kashmiri refugees, uplifting and strengthening AJK politically, diplomatically, and economically.
The writer is IR freelance researcher IIUI