By Zaffar Iqbal
Srinagar, Aug 19 (IANS) Gurdeep Singh is a happy man these days. A refugee from West Pakistan settled in Jammu for the past 15 years, he believes he will benefit from the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. Article 370 accorded a special status to Jammu and Kashmir and denied equal opportunities to outsiders in the state.
Gurdeep Singh, 55, lives in Nanak Nagar in Jammu and works as a private security guard. His two sons work as salesmen for shops in Jain Bazaar. The family lives in a two-room set in Jammu.
For Gurdeep Singh and other refugees from West Pakistan, living in Jammu and Kashmir meant a life of unequal opportunities.
There are close to 1,50,000 West Pakistan refugees living in Jammu. They settled here after the partition of India in 1947. As citizens of India, they could contest and vote in the Indian Parliamentary elections. But, since they were not born in Jammu and Kashmir, they could not contest or vote in the state elections, and were denied state government jobs and even a ration card. But all that is set to change now.
Post the abrogation of Article 370, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promises to give them rights equal to other Indian citizens such as — the right to vote, to own property, get access to higher education and state government jobs.
“We have suffered discrimination and we hope that will end now. I hope that my sons would be able to take examinations for state government jobs,” Gurdeep Singh said.
The refugees settled in Jammu play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the elections for the Jammu Parliamentary seat. That was one of the major reasons why the BJP has been pitching hard for granting them their rights.
But it is not just the refugees from West Pakistan, scrapping of Article 370 is also good news thousands of families of sweepers residing in the Valmiki colony of Jammu. All of them were specially brought in from Punjab in the early fifties to fill in the shortage of cleaning staff in the state. However, they have also been facing problems in getting jobs and buying land.
Jasbir Singh, 55, earns his livelihood by going door-to-door to clean garbage in the posh Gandhi Nagar area of Jammu. His father came from Punjab to work as a cleaner and in the absence of opportunities for any other government job his two sons have also been forced to do the same work. Jasbir Singh is hopeful that the people from his community will now be able to get government jobs and earn a respectable living.
“It has always been our demand that we be dealt at par with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The scrapping of Article 370 would ensure that,” said Jasbir Singh.