The Rohingya refugees living in Jammu are a terrified lot.
In their looks, their features, their shapes, they are human beings, just like anyone else in the city — but they are an 'other'.
These days, every time someone speaks of refugees in India, loud noises of throwing them out are heard. No one wants to feel the pain of this scared lot.
Living with fear: The Rohingya refugees in Jammu are the 'other' (Photo: Reuters)
Imagine being driven out of home to a place thousands of miles away from their own country. Imagine the pictures of the murders of their near and dear ones replaying in their minds. They are definitely an 'other' — but this tag cannot capture the intensity of the pain they have gone through.
As per a recent government estimate, there were close to 6,000 Rohingyas in the state of Jammu & Kashmir around January 6, 2017. These refugees found their way to many states in this country after the aggressive persecution of the community in Myanmar over the past few years. The government of India has always been magnanimous to the cause of refugees — however, in recent times, things have changed slightly, at least for the Rohingyas. On March 16, 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that keeping in mind national interest, only those holding valid travel documents be permitted to enter Indian territory.
Thus, things have been slowly but definitely changing for the refugee community living in Jammu.
There has been a clear increase in resentment against the Rohingyas among some locals. Many believe that the resentment is a deliberate attempt to play divisive politics in the region. Several political leaders have been very open about their feelings on the Rohingyas. There are newspaper advertisements that have been published, openly advocating forcible deportation of Rohingyas, many accusing them of being a threat to the area.
The Kathua lawyers protest wasn't only about the accused. It was also anger against Rohingyas in Jammu.
A fear psychosis — of how a few thousand refugees can change the demography of the region — is being spread. But a lot them ask, how is that even possible with their meagre numbers and why is this yardstick only being applied to them? There are lakhs of West Pakistani refugees living in Jammu who came to India at the time of Partition and later too. Just because their religion is different, they aren't a threat to the demography? This is a question many Rohingya are silently asking.
Even though nothing has been found against these refugees, the hatred only seems to be increasing.
The reason is politics. The issue of the Rohingyas is being used to create a sense of fear in the local population. Sometimes, they are made out as villains over accusations of taking away jobs; sometimes, the charges are to do with demography. At times, serious charges are levelled against them.
Rapidly, a political weapon: The presence of Rohingyas was blamed as a factor leading to the Sunjwan Camp attack (Photo: PTI)
No less than the former Speaker of the J&K assembly was seen at the forefront of accusing Rohingyas of being a security threat. Soon after a terror attack on the Sunjwan Military Station in Jammu on February 10, the issue of a “threat from Rohingyas” was raised in an aggressive manner. The Speaker of the J&K Assembly, Kevinder Gupta, said the presence of Rohingyas around the camp could have led to the attack.
Soon after that, many in Jammu started towing the same line.
However, till now, nothing of the kind has been proven by investigators.
The facts on the ground are different.
The reality is that these people are a persecuted lot. Human beings with whom fate has been very cruel. They spend their lives now running from pillar to post, desperately looking for help. Most have just one design in mind - how to arrange two square meals for their families.