“Our wish to vote once in our lifetime was fulfilled,” said 87-year-old Lal Chand and his 82-year-old wife Trivita with tears in their eyes as they held up their inked fingers after casting their votes in the third phase of District Development Council (DDC) elections at a polling station in Jammu division of Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Chand and his wife are West Pakistan refugees who fled to India during the Partition in 1947. Similar to the couple, nearly 1.50 lakh others became eligible to vote in Jammu and Kashmir’s elections after the Indian government abrogated Article 370 on August 5 last year.
“This is first time in my life that I have cast a vote,” said Chand. “Our last wish has been fulfilled,” he said.
Their village, Chak Jaffar, home to several other West Pakistan refugees, wore a festive look. President of Pakistan Refugees Action Committee, Laba Ram Gandhi, led the celebrations and danced with other members of the community.
“We are very happy to have voted in these elections. It is a message to the entire country that justice has been done to us after seven decades. We got our independence today,” Gandhi said.
The villagers thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah for giving them their rights.
“We thank Modi ji and Amit Shah ji. They have done justice with us. We were living as unwanted citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. We had no rights, from voting to getting jobs. Now we are proud citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. Now our children will get all the rights,” a villager, Sukh Ram said.
“It feels like a rebirth for us. It seems like we have started a new life. It is all because of the prime minister,” he said.
Another villager, Asha Devi, said, “Now our children will not live a miserable life as we did. They will have rights to vote, jobs, education and own property.”
Till August 5 last year, except for parliamentary elections, West Pakistan refugees were barred from voting in Jammu and Kashmir’s assembly, panchayat and urban local body polls.
The refugees, who migrated from parts of west Punjab and Gujarat that are now in Pakistan, were also barred from government jobs, scholarships and admission in colleges, welfare schemes, and right to own land.
However, after the scrapping of Article 370 in 2019, these refugees can not only vote in local elections but also contest polls.
District Development Council polls