“Move to detain us aimed to please Hindutva vote bank in Jammu,” say fear-stricken Rohingya refugees

A Rohingya family in Jammu | Picture by Auqib Javeed

At-least 168 Rohingya refugees living in Narwal area of Jammu in India were taken to detention centres on March 6. The move whipped up fears among the violence-stricken community that they will be forcibly deported back to Myanmar, where they had fled following mass violence. Rohingyas who spoke to TwoCircles.net maintain the move cannot be seen in isolation, as a Hindutva campaign calling for their deportation has long existed in Jammu and blame the campaign for the latest move and ‘threat’ of deportation.

Auqib Javeed, TwoCircles.net

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Jammu: Abdul Rohim, 43, a Rohingya refugee living in Jammu, has not slept. The calls from the government for deporting him and the other members of his community is making him anxious.

Rohim and his fellow refugees from Myanmar have been living in the area in Jammu – the winter capital city of Jammu and Kashmir, since 2009, and some others from 2012, when they fled their home country Myanmar following the violence perpetuated on them, which was termed a “human rights nightmare” by the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees fled relief camps in Jammu on Sunday, March 7, where they had been staying for almost a decade. Fleeing from relief camps came a day after over 168 of them were detained by the Jammu and Kashmir government.The development comes after the Government issued a notification on March 5 under Section 3(2)e of the Foreigners Act, and set up “holding centers” in Hiranagar of Kathua in J&K, that will house the Rohingyas who are illegally staying in the region.

The 168 Rohingyas who were detained include children and women, who will be kept in this sub-jail that the government calls “holding centers.”

On Saturday, videos of the refugees vacating their camps went viral on social media. Reports said that the refugees were brought from Jammu to the sub-jail in buses on Saturday evening.

The sub-jail had been prepared for keeping the Rohingya refugees “staying illegally” nearly a week ago when all the prisoners and undertrials lodged there were shifted to other jails.

“We haven’t heard about our family members who were detained. We don’t know what will happen to them,” Rohim told TwoCircles.net.

He says it’s better for the Indian government to “kill” them here rather than deporting them back to Myanmar.

“The army is once again ruling the country in Myanmar. How can we go and live there, who slaughtered us brutally,” Rohim says.

According to sources, the process has been halted as of now due to overcrowding of the refugees in the “holding centre” . However, the refugees are apprehensive that it might be resumed soon and they may be deported to their country.

Many other Rohingya refugees who spoke to this reporter allege that the the latest threat of their deportation is “politically motivated”

It may be noted that in the past the right-wing parties in the Hindu-dominated area in Jammu and social organizations have demanded repatriation of the Rohingyas several times.

The narrative of the Rohingya being a security threat was initially supported by the BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir unit. The regional Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) later joined the cause calling for Rohingya Muslims to leave Jammu.

In February 2017, the party put up billboards that said, “Don’t save Rohingyas” and “Rohingyas go back” had surfaced in many areas of Jammu. The party said that the Rohingya are a threat to the demography of Jammu.

Many also came forward to support the campaign. State president of Shiv Sena Dimpy Kohli and other party leaders made an appeal to the people of Jammu, especially the Hindus, to “wake up” and “unite” to “save the history, culture and identity of Dogras.

In September 2017, the BJP-led government submitted before the Supreme Court that it sees Rohingya refugees as a potential security threat for the country.

The Central government said that the Rohingya are being used by the Kashmiri militants and could also potentially join ISIS or spy for Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI).

In February 2018, a top BJP leader and then Jammu and Kashmir assembly Speaker Kavinder Gupta blamed the Rohingya refugees for a militant attack in the Sunjwan area of Jammu.

In January 2020, Union Minister Jitendra Singh said the government’s next move would be regarding the deportation of Rohingya refugees as they will not be able to secure citizenship under the new law.

On March 6, a local newspaper carried a front-page advertisement, paid for by members of political parties and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Jammu, underlining the need to remove Rohingyas from the region.

Leading English newspapers in Jammu carrying full page advertisements calling for deportation of Rohingya refugees from the region.

“Threat of the Rohingyas loom large over the heads of peace loving Jammuites. Let’s all unite to save Jammu,” read a full-page advertisement issued by Rajeev Mahajan, president of Shri Ram Sena, in a local English newspaper, Early Times on March 6. The advertisement had a picture of Mahajan and the colours of the Indian flag in the background.

Many among these refugees work and live in rented accommodations away from the refugee camps but they fear being ousted from the city.

Salamutallah, another Rohingya refugee, who lives in Narwal area of Jammu TwoCircles.net that they were facing the threat since last 4 years from different political and right-wing parties to leave Jammu.

“The latest move was taken to please the Hindutva voting bank in the region, who were demanding the deporting of the refugees,” Salamutallah said.

Shuja Zafar, chairman, Jammu Muslims Front (JMF) also agrees with the refugees saying that the move is “politically motivated.”

“The refugees were living here with proper documents. However I heard some of them were living illegally and authorities decided to deport them. But there is politics behind it,” Zafar told TwoCircles.net.

Many Rohingya refugees, who spoke to me on phone, maintain that they have identity cards issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, acknowledging their status as refugees and granting them protections under international law.

On Sunday, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Jammu and Kashmir unit chief Ravinder Raina told The Indian Express that the police action was taken following a request from Myanmar’s External Affairs Ministry to deport the Rohingya back for resettlement. “Anyone who has to leave his native land will certainly be happy to return home,” Raina said.

IGP (Jammu) Mukesh Singh told The Indian Express, that they have begun an exercise to collect details of Rohingya in Jammu. IGP Singh said that 168 Rohingya, including women, have been held “as they were staying here without any valid documents”. The next step, he said, was “to contact their embassy for verification of their nationality and then initiate the process for their deportation”.