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Rohingya refugees in Kashmir face right-wing hate campaign Open in fullscreen

Aamir Ali Bhat

Rohingya refugees in Kashmir face right-wing hate campaign

Around 1,600 Rohingya families live on the outskirts of Kashmir's Jammu region [Muneem Farooq]

Date of publication: 12 April, 2018

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In-depth: After fleeing their homes in Myanmar, Rohingya refugees in Jammu have yet to find security, reports Aamir Ali Bhat.
As the widespread and systematic state violence against Rohingya Muslims continues in Myanmar, around 1,600 Rohingya families who live on the outskirts of the Jammu region of Indian-administrated Kashmir have been blamed as "security threat" by right-wing groups calling for their expulsion from the state.

Inciting people against the refugees, these right-wing groups have spared little expense - with newspaper advertisements and billboards demanding the immediate eviction of Rohingya refugees.

Having fled from violence and persecution at the hands of the Myanmar government, these Rogingya refugees took shelter in Jammu after travelling through the mountains of Bangladesh and crossing the border in West Bengal during the past decade.

In a recent shocking incident, one of the leading English-language dailies, The Early Times, operating from the Jammu region, carried a serious of front page anti-Rohingya advertisements featuring a right-wing ideologue: "Threat of Rohingyas looms large over the heads of peace-loving Jammuites. Let us all unite to save Jammu," read one. "Rohingya, a ticking time bomb. Evict them to save Jammu," read another.

Coincidentally, the newspaper carried more anti-Rohingya advertisement on March 6, when UN officials declared no let-up in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and stated it "inconceivable" for them to return to Myanmar in the near future.

In total the newspaper carried six such advertisements within eight days. On February 27, the first filled the full front page with a photograph of Harsh Dev Singh, chairman of the right-wing mainstream Jammu Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP).

Decrying the incident, many journalists working in Srinigar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, expressed deep concern on social media.
Local newspapers have carried full-page
front page anti-Rohingya

adverts [Early Times]

These Rohingya refugees live in sprawling settlements in different areas od Jammu, including Narwal, Bathindi, Channi Rama and Makkah Masjid.

Most are labourers by profession and some have started small businesses in Jammu.

Following the militant attack on the Indian army camp in Jammu's Sunjawan district on February 10 - in which 10 people including six Indian army personnel, three militants and one civilian were killed - many media outlets and right-wing groups swiftly linked Rohingyas to the attack.

Even the IAK Legislative Assembly Speaker, Kavinder Gupta, claimed the presence of Rohingya Muslims in the area was a reason behind the militant attack.

Living a precarious life, these Rohingya refugees - denied citizenship by Myanmar government under the 1982 Burmese citizenship law - came to Jammu with the hope of living a secure life, but instead are facing tremendous hardships.

"No one will prefer to leave his own homeland unless he is being forced to do so. We are the sufferers. We left Myanmar only to escape state violence," a 35-year-old Rohingya refugee, Kifayat-Ullah, living in the Bathindi area of Jammu told The New Arab.

"We are living here tentatively. But some people regularly call us 'terrorist'. How can a person who has been himself terrorised be a terrorist?"

Denying the claims of the right-wing groups, Kifayat, who leads prayers in the local mosque and runs an Islamic seminary where he teaches the Quran to children, said the refugees had been targeted for the past few years without any evidence being presented, and faced many calls to leave the region.

According the report published in Greater Kashmir the refugees were detained for durations ranging from four to 11 days, and the men were beaten up by police

Cows are revered by most Hindus in India. When in September 2017, the carcass of a cow was found in a piece of empty land near the Rohingya settlement in Channi Rama, south Jammu, members of the ruling BJP held a protest. Immediately, twelve Rohingyas - including two women - were detained in Channi Himmat police station. 

According the report published in Greater Kashmir, a local daily operating from Srinagar, the refugees were detained for durations ranging from four to 11 days, and the men were beaten up by police.

"The refugees, who were let off by the police after periods ranging allegedly from '96 to 264 hours', said that they were 'never produced in a court'. A person cannot be detained for more than 24 hours and must be produced before a magistrate, according to the Code of Criminal Procedure," Greater Kashmir reported.

All but three of the detainees were released. Noor ul-Islam, aged 60, 65-year-old Noor Mohammad, and 27-year-old Noor Ullah have been charged and are still languishing in Kot Bhalwal central jail.

However, the Rohingya refugees denied the charges and called the "discovery" of the cow's corpse a planned conspiracy against them.

Noor ul-Islam has four children. Mohammad has five. Noor Ullah was married only four months before he was detained.

In the absence of their breadwinners, the families of the three incarcerated Rohingya refugees are struggling.

Rohingya Muslims have become the target of Hindu 
nationalists since moving to
Indian-administrated Kashmir [Muneem Farooq]

"Some Gujjar community's cow died, they put it inside the hole near our shelters and later some people complained about it. It was all fabricated," said Ali Juahra, a Rohingya refugee, who came to Jammu in 2012.

"Our three members who are still in jail were detained by police when they were coming out of mosque after offering prayers."

Further, Ali said the three aren't fully fluent in the official local language of Jammu and are unaware of the different legal procedures.

"We are poor; strangers and most of us are labourers. Our three members are in jail on the basis of false charges," he said.

After the jailing, many Rohingya refugees left the Channi area of Jammu and sought shelter elsewhere.

"My uncle, Noor Mohammad, has been detained under false charges," says Siras Miya. "His family is suffering in his absence. I am myself a labourer. I have five kids - what can I do for the family of my uncle? We escaped violence in Myammar but are stuck in another hardship here."

In November 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council offered Jammu-based Rohingya refugees relocation funds and told them they were not safe in Jammu.

Back in early February 2017, the JKNNP installed billboards in and around Jammu, warning Rohingya to immediately leave the state "or be kicked out". 

Featuring the photographs of leading JKNPP members, including chairman Harsh Dev Singh and State Vice-President Balwant Singh Mankotia, these billboards carried the message in bold letters: "Wake up Jammu, Rohingya Quit Jammu: Let us all Jammuites unite to save the history, culture and identity of Dogras."

Back in early February of 2017, The JKNNP, installed billboards in and around Jammu warned Rohingya to immediately leave the state 'or be kicked out'

Mohammad Shafi has been living in a makeshift shelter in Jammu since 2012. He said thousands of Rohingya had been fleeing from Myanmar under these circumstances

"Despite regular attacks on us by some groups, we still believe the government will not force us to leave. Everyone knows the current situation of Myanmar," he told The New Arab.

The Rohingya, an ethnic population of more than one million Muslims living in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, were dubbed the world's "most persecuted community" by the United Nations in 2013.

To escape the military crackdown, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, since August 2017.

These refugees have reported sexual violence, torture, arson, arbitrary detention and premeditated mass killing by Myanmar security forces.

Aamir Ali Bhat is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist who reports on human rights abuses, culture and the environment. He writes for The New Arab, Kashmir Ink and Free Press Kashmir.

Follow him on Twitter: @Aamirbhatt3

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab 

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