In a landmark development since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A on August 5, 2019, the lives of 22,160 West Pakistan Refugees (WPR) have taken a significant turn in the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir. Prior to this historic move, the WPRs were denied various rights, including the ownership of land, access to government jobs, and voting privileges in local elections.
The abrogation of Article 370 brought about a major shift, granting voting rights to non-locals in Jammu and Kashmir. As a result, around 25 lakh new voters are expected to be registered for the first time in the region through the new special revision of electoral rolls.
Labha Ram Gandhi, president of the West Pak Refugees Association,, expressed his joy at the positive changes, stating, "Now, we have 22,160 registered families of WPRs and all have got domicile certificates."
Before August 5, 2019, WPRs were unable to participate in Assembly, Urban Local Bodies (ULB), and Panchayat elections in J&K. However, post the abrogation of Article 370, approximately 1.25 lakh WPRs were granted the right to cast their votes in these elections. Moreover, the Gorkha community also gained voting rights in Assembly, ULBs, and Panchayat elections following the revocation of Article 370.
Another community that benefitted from this historic change is the ValmikiSamaj. Previously restricted to scavenging jobs, the forefathers of this community were brought from Punjab to J&K. After the abrogation of Article 370, they are now able to pursue other dignified livelihoods.
The transformational changes also extended to the requirement of Permanent Resident Certificates or domicile certificates for individuals to become eligible voters in J&K. With the applicability of Representation of People Act 1950 and 1951, any Indian citizen residing in the region and meeting the qualifying age criteria can now register as a voter.
Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, Assembly Electoral Rolls in Jammu and Kashmir were limited to permanent residents only. However, with the recent reforms, any eligible citizen can now be included in the electoral roll of their place of residence.