Article 35A: Now West Pakistani refugees in J&K move SC challenging provision

Amid soaring tensions across Jammu and Kashmir over the controversial issue of possible repeal of Article 35A, a section of West Pakistani refugees, who had migrated to India during the 1947 partition, have now challenged Article 35A at the Supreme Court. The Article 35A of the Constitution deals with special rights and privileges of permanent residents.

In a fresh plea to the apex court, the petitioners stated that while the original residents of the state avail the special privileges, around three lakh West Pakistani refugees, who are long settled in Jammu and Kashmir, are denied of the rights guaranteed under Article 35A. A bench of Justice at the apex court tagged the fresh plea by the refugees settled in Kathua district with similar pending matters. The SC had earlier, at the request of the state government, posted the matter for hearing after the Diwali holidays.

Added to the Constitution by a Presidential Order in 1954, Article 35A ensures special rights to the citizens of J-K and also empowers the state’s legislature to come up with any law without attracting challenge of violation of Right to Equality of people from other states or any other right under the Indian Constitution.

A Kashmiri Pandit named Dr Charu Wali Khanna had earlier challenged the provision in the Supreme Court. In another plea, petitioners Kali Das, his son Sanjay Kumar and one other mentioned, “The petitioners are persons who migrated from Pakistan to India in 1947. They were assured by the government that they should stay in the state of Jammu and Kashmir on the assurance that they would be granted Permanent Resident Certificates (PRC), which would permit them to purchase properties and own a house, opportunity to get a government job and reservation benefits, since most of them belong to SC/ST/OBC category and a right to vote in state and municipal elections.”

The petition further claimed that despite repeated assurance by successive governments, Pakistani refugees in Jammu and Kashmir have not yet received a PRC, even after more than 65 years of their immigration. Further citing the cruelty and bonded labour treatment faced by the refugees, the petitioners stated that the denial of the basic and necessary rights result in “denial of basic civilisational recognition to a set of humanity which defies basic human values and civilisational ethos.”

“Certain groups of citizens of India for whose rights this petition is being moved are subjected to extreme cruelty and bonded labour treatment. The state government granted permanent resident status to some of the West Pakistan refugees subject to an exception that they could be employed only as sweepers,” read the petition.

Further stressing on the continuing inequality in the valley, the petitioners mentioned that the refugees and their kin are not allowed to hold a position higher than a sweeper and also their children deprived of education in government universities or scholarships to gain education

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