They gathered, around a shack, to discuss an unusual situation that is threatening to rob them of their livelihood and their settlements, once again. On Friday, dozens of hoardings popped up in the entire Jammu city asking Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic group that has faced persecution at the hands of majority-Buddhists in Myanmar for decades, to immediately leave the city or they will be thrown out.
"Where will we go," Mohammad Johar, 35, who was among the first batch of refugees to arrive in this city, said, as he caressed his four-year-old daughter near his Juggie. “It is not easy to find a place to live and make a living,” he adds.
The Jammu and Kashmir government recently said that more than 1,200 Rohingya families, comprising of 6,000 people, have been living in different parts of Jammu for the last six years. They are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and also with the Union Home Ministry. But now, they are at the crossroads of a fierce political debate raging in this winter capital, whether they should be allowed, at all, to live in the state.
“Does the state law permit them (Rohingyas) to settle here in any part of the state? Article 370 does not allow anyone to settle here in Jammu and Kashmir,” Harshdev Singh, JKNPP Chairman, said. “If the state government does not throw them out, we will do that.”
The hoardings put by the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party threatens that Rohingya and Bangladeshis should leave the Jammu immediately or face the consequences. However, these persecuted people have found little support from both mainstream as well as separatist politicians.
Inside a Rohingya camp, in Narwal area of Jammu, residents gather to discuss the explicit threat and explore the possibility of meeting political leaders and appraise them about their condition back home and their reason for migration.
“We want to tell them that we are cursed people and trying hard to live a peaceful life here,” Saleem Ahmad, another refugee, says. “Our migration here was purely on the bases of economic reasons. The wages here are much better than in the rest of India,” he adds.
The issue of Rohingya started taking political colour after the valley based political parties started expressing concern over the issuance of identity certificates to the West Pakistani refugees, who migrated from Sialkot and other neighbouring belts in 1947 and settled in Jammu. However, these refugees are still neither state subjects nor citizens of India.
“If West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) can’t be given citizenship after three generations, how can these people be allowed to stay in the state. Their settlement in a sensitive border state is a great threat to national security,” BJP MLA from Nowshera, Ravinder Raina, said recently in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, before demanding the headcount of these displaced people.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said recently 5,743 Burmese (Rohingyas) are staying in the state and no instance of radicalisation has been reported among them so far.
“No Rohingya has been found involved in militancy-related incidents. However, 17 FIRs have been registered against 38 Rohingyas for various offences,” Mehbooba, who holds the charge of the Home Department also, had said in a written reply to a question of BJP MLA Sat Sharma in the Legislative Assembly.
For living, Rohingyas do daily wage jobs and majority of them have become scrap dealers. Children support their families by collecting and selling recyclable material, and a few women work in walnut factories up to 12 hours a day, cracking shells and removing nuts.
However, majority of the political parties in Jammu, including the ruling BJP, was of the opinion that by demanding the expulsion of Rohingya from state, the valley based political parties would give in on the demand of refusing issuance of identification cards to the refugees who came from West Pakistan in 1947, 1965 and 1971.
But to their surprise, almost every political party from the valley has refused to come to the aid of Rohingyas, and instead, demanded the expulsion of both.
That could be the reason the fresh hoarding in the Jammu are indications of what is coming for these refugees who fled Myanmar as security forces there carry out a brutal counter-insurgency campaign.
The Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry called the presence of “foreigners” in the city a “sinister campaign” to change the demography of the area by “unseen forces”. Rakesh Gupta, its president, says, there is an attempt by “people” to change the demography of Jammu by settling Muslim population from foreign lands.
“If the politics over our temporary settlement continues, I think we will have to move from here,” Abir Sheik, a Rohingya, says in the Narwal camp.
Updated Date: Feb 06, 2017 12:17 PM