Facing growing threats from Hindutva groups, the Rohingya refugees in Jammu face an increasingly uncertain future and long to go ‘home’. Kashmiri journalist Baseera Rafiqi visits Rohingya refugee camps in Jammu to understand their experience of living in India, their problems and fears
Baseera Rafiqi | Caravan Daily
EVEN AS every new entrant is seen with a suspicious eye in this camp but after consulting each other, chairs are pulled for them so that they feel comfortable in the camp which is home to thousand of Rohingya refugees.
As we step in the camp in Bathindi Narwal, Jammu where Rohingya Muslim refugees are putting up, we see children bare feet playing in the yard and elders, mostly women busy in kitchens while a few men hold toddlers in their laps.
As per the Jammu and Kashmir government data, there are 5,743 Rohingya refugees living in Jammu and Samba currently. A card issued by the UNHRC to each and every individual of the camp serves as an identity card or a pass. Rohingyas are a stateless ethnic group ousted by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and forced to leave their country after torture, murder and rape.
The UNHRC has recognized around 14,000 Rohingyas in India; however, India doesn’t accept the status and treats them as foreigners, who have entered the country illegally.
Living in Jammu around Muslims was a conscious decision by these refugees but in the recent past a sense of fear has engulfed this community as many of their homes were burnt and they were threatened to leave the place.
Jiger Hussain (37), who has recently shifted to Karyani-Talab, Jammu with his family, vividly remembers the night his juggi fell apart after catching fire. “It was dead of the night and we were in our tent in Narwal, along with other fellow inhabitants. And all of a sudden I heard men coming with mashaals and burning everything that came their way. I barely managed to locate my wife, two daughters and ran for shelter. In a few minutes the whole place was raised to dust. The polythene cover was melting and so were my hopes of a roof,” recalls Hussain.
People came to us and asked us to leave, but where can we go. We are not rich to afford such journeys. If we could we would prefer to go back to our country, our homes. Who likes to live like beggars?
Nothing was left, except his family and the clothes they were wearing that time. And amid the night only, he ran as far as he could to keep his family safe. “There was only one thing on my mind and that was to take my children to a safer place. So my wife and I decided to take walk and escape anyhow. My eldest daughter who is six, was shaking with fear; it reminded us of our journey from Burma.”
These Burmese refugees have been living in Jammu from 2008, but this year they faced threats from the local trader organizations, the RSS and others to leave India or else they will be hurt.
“People came to us and asked us to leave, but where can we go. We are not rich to afford such journeys. If we could we would prefer to go back to our country, our homes. Who likes to live like beggars?” says Akhter Ahmed.
After these threats, people hardly employ them and their survival has become very difficult due to the circumstances.
“Earlier my husband would come home after a day’s work and wages but now he has work only for a week in one month. That has pushed me to work in a local house as a maid who don’t pay that much. I had my own farm, cattle and maids and now I am myself one. Those who did it to us will rot in hell,” laments Sareefa Begum, 23, and a mother of three girls.
Rohingya refugees are facing several problems, from survival to death threats and yet they continuing to live under the blanket of fear day in and day out just becaus ethey have nowhere else to go.
Some NGO’s in the area came together and made a make-shift school at Karyani Talab for the kids but at noon there were no children in the school and the doors were locked as Caravan Daily went to the school.
“This school here was started by some NGO’s after seeing the condition of our children but we have our survival at stake; education is a luxury and we can’t afford it,” said Amin Hassan, who owns a shop right next to the elementary school.
Just a building or a few classes are not going to lure kids to schools, they need more reasons to be in the classrooms and learn. “We need to understand the basics issues: why are our children not in classrooms? The reason is simple: They have to fend for their families, if that thing is eliminated from their daily chores, they will be more than happy to attend schools. Their parents should have steady means of income so that kids enjoy their childhood and education,” said Ghulam Mohiudin, an elderly man working in close with these refugees.
The notion that these Rohingya Muslims are outsiders makes them susceptible to many things which gets them under the police radar too.
“If there is a robbery in the area, we become the prime suspects. I don’t understand this. It has made our lives a living hell, we cannot live, work or study in peace here. I often think of my home and long to go back,” says Yasmeen, 18.
Baseera Rafiqi is a Kashmiri journalist based in Srinagar.