Fled Myanmar but fear grips Rohingya refugees in Jammu as fresh threats emerge
A frail and old Kamal Hussain, dressed in a lungi and shirt, takes up position outside a Rohingya refugee settlement in Narwal locality as the clock strikes 10pm.
He, along with three men, will stand guard the whole night at different positions around the settlement comprising 80-odd shanties to stop any arson.
For the past several weeks, it has been the nightly routine for Hussain and his community members who have found refuge in Jammu after having fled persecution and violence in their native land of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.
But violence seems to have followed them and the Rohingya refugees are forced to be on their toes.
Ties with their new neighbours have been testy even at the best of times, but the situation has taken a turn for the worse in recent months with calls growing for them to quit Jammu.
In February, posters put up by the Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party demanding their immediate deportation were plastered on walls.
“Let all Jammuites unite to save the history, culture and identity of Dogras,” the posters exhorted.
Muslims by faith, the Rohingya refugees routinely raise suspicion in the Hindu-dominated town and were shaken after a prominent office-bearer of the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry called for them to be “identified and killed” in April.
A string of suspicious mysterious fires at the Rohingya settlement over the past few months have further heightened the tensions. The police hinted at electrical short-circuit but the refugees suspect sabotage.
Continuing turmoil in the Kashmir Valley has inflamed religious tensions in Jammu and Rohingya refugees are bearing the brunt of it.
Described by the United Nations as the world’s most persecuted minority, the refugees find themselves under siege in their new home.
“Senior residents of our settlement had chosen four men as guards and we have started guarding our settlement. We got scared after some of our huts caught mysterious fire and locals started protesting against us,” Hussain said.
Mohammad Araf, 23, who is keeping Hussain company for the night, is equally suspicious of his current surroundings. “Perhaps we won’t be able to catch the arsonists, but we may alert the residents on time and save them,” he said.
Araf had arrived in Jammu in 2009. According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), there are around 14,000 Rohingya refugees registered with them in India out of which 7,000 are in Jammu.
Last month, media reports quoted anonymous home ministry officials saying that the central government was considering pushing for identification and possible deportation of the Rohingya from J&K.
Khifayatulla Arkani, a Rohingya refugee who teaches at a madarsa in one of the settlements, explained the predicament of his community. “We have been living in Jammu for years now. But now suddenly, these radical voices against us have started pouring in. We were feeling safe here, but suddenly our world has turned upside down,” he said.
Under fire for being “illegal” and being “part of a conspiracy to reduce the dominant Hindu Dogra community to a minority status”, the refugees feel they are being targeted for their religion.
Several of them said they were not illegal and were registered with the UNHCR and have
“refugee cards” that allow them to take refuge in any part of the country.
“After a series of interviews in which we gave details about our lives and sufferings, and following multiple verifications of the same, we were given the Refugee Card from the UNHCR’s Delhi office,” Arkani said. Yet, he feels their current refuge has failed to give them the security that they sought while fleeing their home