Regarded by the United Nations Human Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) as “one of the most persecuted, excluded and vulnerable communities” in the world, Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar living in Jammu are worried about an unusual situation that is threatening to rob them of their livelihood and their settlements, once again.
Advocate Hunar Gupta – a member of the BJP’s legal cell and standing council of the central government – filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Division Bench of the High Court seeking identification and deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis from Jammu.
Advocates Shah Faisal and Fidel Sebastian had moved an application on 27 February 2017, pleading that they be heard before an order is passed in the PIL. Senior Advocate Sunil Sethi, who is also Chief Spokesperson of BJP in Jammu and Kashmir, is appearing in the PIL along with Advocate Hunar Gupta.
In the PIL, a plea has been made to issue directions for shifting all the illegal immigrants of Myanmar and Bangladesh from the state to any other place, as no refugee camp has ever been declared either by the state or by the United Nations in Jammu and Kashmir. The plea has also been made for withdrawal of all benefits given to the illegal immigrants of Bangladesh and Myanmar from the State exchequer and from the scheme and benefits meant for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
Division Bench of the High Court comprising of ex-Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir N Paul Vasanthakumar and Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur had admitted the PIL and issued notices to the Chief Secretary, Director General of Police and others on 1 February 2017.
The fate of the application moved by the two lawyers for impleadment of Rohingya as party will be decided when the matter comes up for hearing before Division Bench headed by new Chief Minister Badar Durrez Ahmed on 6 April 2017.
But the media reports of MHA planning deportation of Rohingyas from Jammu and Kashmir, two days ahead of the hearing of their application, has alarmed them.
The media reports quoted an unnamed official of the Union Home Ministry, saying the Ministry was planning to identify, track and, if possible, deport Rohingya Muslims living allegedly illegally in Jammu and Kashmir.
Almost all the Jammu-based newspapers, including the editions of the national newspapers which are printed from the region, carried the news item as lead.
“News Reporting Meant to Influence Courts”
Lawyer of the Rohingya refugees, Shah Faisal, who moved the application for impleadment told The Quint:
We see a deliberate design in news reports appearing the media against the Rohingya refugees. These reports began appearing after we moved the impleadment application on 27 February 2017. Most of the news reports wherein Rohingya Muslims have been called a security threat began appearing after 27 February.
“We believe this is being done with an intent to influence the court, which we are sure won’t happen,” said Faisal. He added “They are all UNHCR card-holders, not illegal as the case is being made. None of them has been involved in any anti-national or terrorist activity. We would place all these facts before the court. We are sure the court would consider our application for impleadment."
‘Where Will We Go?’ Ask the Rohingyas
"Where will we go?,” Maulana Shafiq, 52, who was among the first batch of refugees to arrive in this city, said, as he caressed his four-year-old daughter near his juggi. “It is not easy to find a place to live and make a living,” he adds. Shafiq and his family were the first Rohingya Muslims to make Jammu their home in 2009. They were followed by others, who came to escape persecution in Myanmar. Today, there are over 6,684 registered Rohingya Muslim families in the Jammu region.
Shafiq, like most of the Rohingya refugees settled in Jammu, said that he has nothing to do with politics and moved purely for economic reasons. “We get good wages, the vegetable market is close by, we get things very cheap, that's why we prefer to live in Jammu," said Zahid Hussain. But the rush of Rohingya refugees is now at the centre of a controversy – one that comes at a time when identity certificates for refugees from West Pakistan have sparked a debate.
Pushed Into a Corner, BJP Floats Conspiracy Theory
Pushed to the wall by the Jammu-based opposition parties, Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) and Congress, the BJP was virtually forced to come out with a statement that Rohingyas are living illegally and are engaged in anti-social activities. The BJP had maintained a complete silence over the issue after taking over the reins of power in the state in March 2015, until the Jammu-based saffron organisations and political parties raised the issue of alleged illegal settlement of the Rohingyas.
JKNPP, whose patron Prof Bhim Singh is well-known for fighting cases of Pakistani terrorist languishing in Indian jails, was the first to raise the issue of settlement of Rohingya Muslims in the Jammu region. The party put up hoardings across Jammu city, asking people to unite against the demography change conspiracy of the Kashmiri leaders. Its Chairman Harshdev Singh told The Quint:
Don’t you see how locality after locality is getting Muslim names? This is a serious conspiracy to turn Hindus minority in their own land. We won’t allow this to happen. BJP is sitting silent because it is in power and does not want to annoy Kashmiris... 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. If the state government does not throw them out, we will do it.
“Won’t Let Jammu Turn into City of Mosques”
JKNPP was followed by saffron outfits namely Bajrgang Dal, Shiv Sena, Hindustan Shiv Sena and other affiliates threatening forcible eviction of the Rohingya Muslims from the Jammu region. “They are criminals. They were thrown out of their country for their criminal acts. How can we allow them to pollute our sacred land? Jammu is a city of temples and we won’t allow criminals from a foreign land to turn it into city of mosques,” said Ashok Gupta, State President of the Shiva Sena.
He added that the Rohingyas have managed Aaadhar cards and state subjects illegally, which is alarming. “They are marrying here and thus, a time would come, when they would get citizenship rights in this state. We won’t allow them to settle here,” said Publicity Secretary of Hindustan Shiv Sena Subhash Parashar.
Rohingya Issue Takes Political Hue
The issue of Rohingyas started taking political colour after 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.
Arun Gupta, BJP State SpokespersonIf 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.
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 to change the demography of Jammu by settling a Muslim population from foreign lands.
However, majority of the political parties in Jammu, including the ruling BJP, was of the opinion that by demanding the expulsion of Rohingyas from the 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.
He referred to oft-repeated statements made by the Provincial President of NC for Jammu region Devinder Singh Rana, seeking deportation of illegally staying Rohingyas and Bangladeshis.
Madan Mantoo, Leader, J&K National ConferenceWho is stopping BJP led NDA at the Centre and PDP-BJP Government in Jammu and Kashmir to tackle with Rohingyas and Bangladeshis? My party has many a times sought deportation of the illegal settlers as per Foreigners Act from Jammu and Kashmir.
Ravinder Sharma of Congress too said that BJP was playing politics over the issue. “They are the government and they should have taken action against the illegal settlers by now. But they are desisting to do so for the reasons best known to them,” said Sharma in a statement. By issuing the statements, the two parties also joined the other Jammu-based parties in seeking ouster of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas from Jammu.
There are about 1,219 Rohingya (Burmese) families comprising 5,107 members who are staying in Jammu. Nearly all of the refugees live in the Jammu district alone, most of them in Narwal area of the city.
“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.