Rohingya despair in India as they face double discrimination
On June 12, Mohammad Saleem, a Rohingya refugee, living in the Kalindi Kunj area of South Delhi, was forced to evacuate the refugee camp as a massive fire broke out in the dead of night. As a result of the fire, 56 homes were gutted, leaving nearly 300 people screaming desperately on the streets without a home to go to.
Saleem, a member of this community, barely escaped with the clothes on his back. The fire spread so fast that he could save none of his belongings. His utensils, clothes and his children's books were found burnt up in the rubble later.
Police investigations point to the wires near a shanty and claim a short circuit as the cause. According to the locals, the shanty spoken of was abandoned and its owner had been living elsewhere for the last few months.
A similar fire broke out in the camp two years ago in 2018. Even then, their belongings, including their identity cards and other documents were lost. This community has faced several events of hate and discrimination by right-wing political groups which have left them frightened.
They were even told to evacuate from this side of the road. Although not many of them would admit it out of fear, they believe that the fire was not an accident – it won't be a baseless theory to ascertain that this fire was deliberately lit to evict them from this camp, and the rise of Islamophobia in India is a testimony to that theory.
Asif Mustafa, a research scholar, runs an NGO to provide support to the victims of this catastrophe. He has taken an active part in organising logistics and health management for these people. "From the day of fire: June 12, we have been helping the victims," Asif tells The New Arab.
In the fires, Rohingyas lost all their assets. So the help was to be provided in terms of food, shelter and basic healthcare. Asif teamed up with the local administrations and other NGO's to set up tents and supply food items.
In the fires, Rohingyas lost all their assets
On this humanitarian mission, Asif says, that there are only a few among the locals who support this cause. "Shamefully, a very huge section of the people, manipulated by the right-wing propaganda, think of Rohingyas as a threat to India's integrity and security," he explains.
These right-wing groups use social media to propagate their hateful ideas among the locals. Their purpose is no different than the Myanmar Government: to dehumanise this community.
Fortunately, there are other people as well who come up to help this community to the best of their powers. "When we gave a call to donate food items and clothes, lots of people came by with boxes of food and clothes."
He says that it is the duty of everyone in their right minds to help them. And while the hate mongers are continuing spewing their poison, the disillusioned people must keep doing their best.
Rohingyas being considered a threat to national security is not just an idea in the background.
The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) led Government, have termed the Rohingyas as a threat to national security and hence urged the Supreme Court of India to refrain from stopping the deportation of these people.
Saleem on the other hand terms these allegations as baseless and requests the world to see that all they want is a place to live until the conflict in Myanmar ends.
He said that like every other human being, all they want is to live safely. "We are humans like everyone else. All we want is a safe place to live."
Almost two months after the fire incident, the inside of the new refugee camp is even worse than what it used to be.
In the previous camp, according to Saleem, there were three toilets, four hand pumps and a mosque. Sadly, the mosque was demolished.
The Government [of India] should know better than treating refugees as second-class citizens when the Constitution guarantees them the fundamental right: 'Right To Live'
A teenager, Abdul Kareem, witnessed the mosque being demolished. Nothing remains of the mosque but a mess of cement and sheets. Since they lost their place of worship in the camp, Kareem says that they have been using a shanty as a replacement.
Ten-year-old Mohammad Ismail has also seen a lot of destruction already. He said that he could not understand why the mosque was demolished or why their camp was burnt.
With pain children of his age should be unaware of, Ismail utters: "God is watching everything."
Saleem also shares his personal story of loss, after his wife tested positive for the virus. He shares how he had to borrow money from someone to take her to Safdarjung hospital. During her five difficult days there, she fought for each breath, Saleem stood in lines for oxygen cylinders and beds. However, on the fifth day, she passed away leaving Saleem a widower and his children motherless.
UNHCR released a fact sheet in which they stated that they welcomed the SOP issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for COVID-19 vaccination for persons without prescribed identity cards.
Today, and as long as he lives, Saleem will never forget how his community was denied vaccine shots.
Every time he will see a billboard of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming "the victory over coronavirus," he will be reminded of his wife on her deathbed.
The Indian government has conducted vaccination drives to the remotest places in the country. Like the Swacch Bharat Mission, many other campaigns will be launched by the government in the future – and the more the better.
But nothing will change the fact that the Rohingya slums were not sanitised knowing how vulnerable they were in such living conditions to the virus. The government should know better than treating refugees as second-class citizens when the constitution guarantees them the fundamental right: “Right To Live."
Sarib Yousuf is a literature student based in Kashmir
Darash Dawood is an independent photographer based in Kashmir