In Depth

It’s ‘snacks for scrap’ in this Rohingya slum in Jammu

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Photo: Firdaus Latif

Jammu: In 2013, Rohingya Muslims were referred to as ‘the most persecuted people on earth’ by United Nations. They have been also described as the ‘least wanted and the most friendless people’ in the world by UN representatives.

Amnesty International says that Rohingyas, who are living in Rakhine State of Myanmar, have suffered human rights violations since 1978, first under the military dictatorship and then under the democratic rule of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Rohingyas have migrated to Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Nepal. Many have come to India too to escape brutal human right violations at the hands of Myanmar authorities.

Many of them now live in slums in Jammu. In one such slum in Narwal area, children have found a way to ‘earn’ snacks.


Snacks for scrap

FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid

The Rohingya children in the Narwal area of Jammu play a game, “Finding Scrap”. These children collect scrap for the whole day and in the evening a person on a bicycle arrives.

His bicycle is full of snacks and the game begins!

He starts collecting the scrap from children. It seems as if he is collecting their answer sheets and then looks on to evaluate it. He then decides who deserves how much quantity of snacks and the game ends!

Even the one with the lowest marks is happy.

Children are vulnerable and have proved to be the worst victims of conflicts. They can’t explain why they left their homes, because they are too young to understand the “why” or the most of them were born in the camp.


Tales of torture

FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid

In Narwal, Jammu a piece of land has turned out to be a silent listener to thousands of such stories full of pain, sorrow, misery and grief. Many of the refugees have been here for 10 years now but the memories of how they survived are still fresh. Some have escaped persecution by hiding in forests for days, traveling empty stomach and eating leaves to survive.

Zahida , 19 arrived at the camp 3 months ago. She crossed into Bangladesh and then into India, with the help of a broker. She is learning how to speak Hindi, so that communication becomes easy.

“All my family members have died. My mother died a natural death but my father was murdered. He was tortured and then shot with a bullet. I saw him die”

She lives with her elder sister, who survived because she fled to Jammu along with her husband.

“After my father’s death my sister asked me to come here,” she says. Her sister and brother in law go for work and she takes care of their home and children.

She says that she is trying to move on and start a new life but the visuals of how his father died and how people back home are suffering are now a permanent part of her memory. She says that she can’t narrate them too often as it is traumatic.

“I don’t fear anything now, I have seen the worst, I am a strong believer and accepting life as it is,” she says.

A few huts away lives Mohamed Naveen who migrated in 2013 for a better and safer life. “Even after paying a sum of 2 lakh rupees to the local police station for getting married, I could not plan for a family because the law of the states does not allow us to do so,” he says.

Naveen has learnt the local language. While walking through the narrow lanes of the camp he says, “Our land has been taken away by the government in Myanmar and we are tortured and raped. That is not acceptable, and no human can live in such conditions.”   

He lives in a small make shift home of about 100 square feet with his wife and three children. He pays an amount of Rs. 800 per month as rent to the landlord.  


Lack of aid/Absence of aid groups

FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid

Tragedies doubled when the camp caught fire in November 2016, which left seven people dead, including three children. The camp was re-build with the assistance of Jamat-e-Islami, a religious organisation. With no help from international aid organizations, the camp lacks basic facilities like medical care, sanitation and drinking water.

Zaid Hussain, who migrated in 2013 and runs a shop with in the camp, used to be a landlord back in Myanmar. Settling down on a chair in the corner of his shop he says, “Our stories have been done several times and our issues have been raised at the international level also, but what has been the outcome,” he asks.

“We were not always like this. We were landlords and lived a luxurious life. This is our bad time, Allah is testing us and we are ready to face every hardship because Allah tries the one he loves the most,” he says.

The families are ‘illegal immigrants’ according to the government and have no identity proof other then the UNHCR refugee card which not many of them hold. This status of limbo also denies their children from the right to education. They are not admitted by the school authorities because of lack of required legal documents.


‘Friendless people’

The camp has a madrasa which imparts religious knowledge and educational learning. Many parents want their children to go to proper school and learn other subjects, but the law does not allow them to do so, and in most cases, lack of finances adds as a reason.

The latest United Nations report on the Rohingya community revealed shocking facts about the atrocities that they are facing, like women being raped, tortured, and children cut to death and villages burnt down.

The atrocities don’t end here. The problems are multiplied when political parties start using them for vote bank politics.

Around the Jammu city, billboards of Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party carry the slogan, “Wake up Jammu! Rohingyas, Bangladeshis quit Jammu!” and “ Let all Jammuites unite to save  history, culture and identity of Dogras.”

Recently, Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry created a stir by saying that they will launch an ‘identify and kill’ movement against Rohingyas if the government fails to deport them. Due to a sharp reaction, they ‘clarified’ that their statement was misread by anti-social and anti-national elements.

“We meant that we want to ‘identify’ and ‘kill’ the issue once for all,” they said in a statement.

In concrete terms nothing has really been done to help the conditions of the Rohingya refugees. They keep asking why can’t they be recognized, if there is a possibility for recognizing West Pakistan Refugees.

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