Rohingya refugees in Jammu city of occupied Kashmir

Chilling stories of untold misery of 350 Rohingya refugees (out of a total of 2 million), their persecution by the Buddhist majority of Burma and the hardships they face as a stateless community in Jammu, even though the Muslims of Jammu have largely welcomed them.

Who are the Rohingyas?  When did the culture of ethnic cleansing begin against them? 
Though the mass genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Burma began in June 2012, social discrimination and periodical killings of Muslims have been going on since the 1960s, if not earlier.  According to observers and historians,  Buddhist xenophobia with brazen intolerance toward Muslims and Christians has been prevalent in the global Buddhist community since centuries.

As the Rohingya Blogger writes, "Rohingyas of the Arakan province of Burma were poor farmers and their right to Burmese citizenship was unquestioned until the Burmese military seized power in 1962. The military dictator, Ne Win, revoked the citizenship of all Rohingyas in 1982, thus begins the journey of 'CITIZENS OF NOWHERE' " The Rohingyas have been living in the south-western province of Burma for hundreds of years, if not thousands.  There is no historical record of the Rohingyas coming to Burma from any other land.

For decades the Rohingyas have been confronted with unimaginable hostility in Burma where monks have gone berserk against them.  To make matters worse, neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Thailand have shown no desire to help the oppressed minority of Burma.  Between 1978 and 2012, the Burmese military drove out 800,000 Rohingyas in an ongoing campaign involving widespread killings, mass rapes, destruction of mosques, Muslim businesses and homes.  Soon after 9/11 when Muslims began getting persecuted around the world, the Buddhist monks grabbed the opportunity to spread anti-Islam pamphlets that resulted in the burning of Muslim homes and mosques and the killing of several hundreds of Rohingyas.   More than 100,000 have been killed and over 2 million have become refugees .... almost the same numbers as in Syria, or more.  The only difference being that the Syrian invasion began in April 2011, and the mass killing of Rohingya began in June 2012.  From that perspective, casualties are considerably higher among the Rohingyas. 

Harrowing social conditions faced by Rohingyas in Burma making life unlivable that forced them to flee:
According to Burmese laws, Rohingya Muslims must inform the police when the decide to get married.  They also must inform the police when their wives are pregnant.  They aren't allowed to have not more than two children.  They must again inform the police if the wife is pregnant with a second child.  As marriage tax, Rohingya Muslims have to pay Rs.300,000 to the Burmese government.  This cost is shared between the families of the husband and wife.  Before the birth of each child, they have to pay a tax of Rs.10,000 to the government.  There is also a death tax for Muslims. At the death of a family member, the family has to pay a tax of Rs.5,000.  All of these taxes are mandatory only for Muslims, failing which they promptly land up in prison.  Even if their farm animals reproduce or die, they require to pay a tax of Rs.10,000 to the government.

Forced labor:
Forced labor of Rohingyas without wages is widespread in the Arakan province.  Every month approximately 100 men are picked up from different Muslim villages by the Burmese Army .. no different from grabbing slaves free of cost from the slave-market.  They are forced to carry luggage and other heavy objects across mountainous terrain that are inaccessible by regular vehicles. 

Apartheid attitude of Burmese "human rights activists:"
Apartheid conditions stemming from the frenzy of ethnic violence aimed at causing brazen discrimination and indignation is stupefying within the entire Buddhist community of Burma including its so-called humanitarians.  The inclination of many Burmese 'human rights activists' has been observed as no less bigoted than the monks, mobs and law enforcers.  In total disagreement with the international Human Rights Watch which has plainly termed this violence as "one-sided" where armed monks and gangs are slaughtering the unarmed minority, the local Burmese activists and politicians (including the arch hypocrite, Aung San Su Kyi) insist that it is "communal" which is completely false.  This turmoil cannot be termed a 'riot' where two sides are killing each other.  It's state sponsored terrorism and widespread ethnic cleansing where only the armed majority is killing the unarmed minority.  Human Rights Watch has cited the example of one such incident it witnessed.  In October 2012 at the height of the genocide against Muslims, a group of relocating Rohingyas consisting of 70 adults and 28 children were carrying rudimentary weapons consisting of a few sticks for self defense which the Burmese police confiscated for the purpose of making them easy targets of marauding Buddhist mobs.

Living conditions in Jammu:
Small groups of persecuted Rohingyas have been moving into Jammu periodically since the last decade or more.  Although their refugee camps in a Jammu neighborhood called Kiryana Talab are little huts in a slum, more than half of their humble, hard earned salaries are spent on rents for these huts.  They pay rent upto Rs.1000 a month, and a minimal of Rs.800.  Most of them work as cleaners, scrap sellers,  street vendors and laborers. Several work at the Jummu railway station.  Few lucky ones have found jobs as school teachers.  Despite their poverty and the awfully hard times they're going through, Rohingyas are observed as an amazingly self-respecting lot with endless patience and perseverance.  Regardless of how menial the job might be as daily wagers, they insist on working and not begging.

Story of Haroon Rashid:
A Rohingya Muslim living in Burma for generations, Haroon got married in 2003.  While Haroon was busy making his pre-marital arrangements, he forgot to tell the police about his upcoming marriage.  On the eighth day of his marriage, a contingent of armed police surrounded his village, dragged him out of his home, handcuffed him and took him away.  Haroon spent 6 months in prison, was regularly tortured and humiliated and eventually paid Rs.100,000 for his release.   Two days after buying his freedom, Haroon along with 60 other Rohingyas, all victims of state excesses, met secretly at a friend's house and planned to flee the country with their families.  They successfully arrived in neighboring Bangladesh where they lived for 4 years;  but were then forced to leave after the government suddenly began cracking down on illegal immigration.  He then traveled to India and from there headed to a Rohingya refugee camp in Jammu with his wife and a child.  He makes a living as a street vendor selling vegetables.  Whatever meager amount he earns daily, he spends it on his family in the evening after returning home.

Abdul Aziz:
A 27-year-old Rohingya now living in Jammu city, is also a vegetable hawker like Haroon.  In 2002 (or 2003) he was was picked up by the army for forced labor.  He had to carry coal sacks to the camps on top of the mountains.  He did this work for almost 3 weeks without being paid a penny.  After 20 days, Ali quietly fled to Bangladesh, being compelled to leave his parents and sister behind.
Aziz narrates the story of a friend who wasn't as fortunate as him.  Physically he wasn't as strong and not able to carry heavy loads.  When some Burmese soldiers saw him repeatedly struggling and stumbling with the coal sacks, they became furious and kicked him down the mountains.  To this day Aziz doesn't know what might have become of his friend.  But he is sure his couldn't have survived such a fall.

Ameer Hussain:
He is now 80 years of age.  He left Burma when riots erupted in 1998 in his village.  Hussain had a small piece of land for farming, his only source of income to feed his family.  But soon after the Burmese government introduced insanely heavy land taxes on Muslim farmers and Hussain was compelled to quit farming.   "We were forced to share half of what we made in the farms with the government.  That's why I and thousands others like me left farming and sold our lands to Buddhists," Hussain mentioned.

Mohammed Rafiq:
He arrived in Jammu recently and lives in one of the cramped shanty huts of Kiryana Talab camp.  Tells the tragic story of his friend's family.  Quoting Rafiq: "The body of my friend's wife was found floating on a river.  She was abducted along with her two children.  Her captors said her breasts gave milk to Muslim babies and her womb gave birth to future generations of Muslims.  Her breasts were cut off and her genitalia mutilated with a bamboo.  Her teenage son was tethered to a motorbike and dragged across the rocky road."

He works as a private teacher and has been living in Jammu since a decade.  He has been working very hard to fight for the rights of the Rohingyas.  He has been arranging meetings within his community and explaining the hardships of being a refugee to the newcomers.  His goal is to unite all Rohingyas in Jammu under one banner forming a joint committee.   Shams-ul-Alam is the chairman of this little committee but the committee hasn't yet been named.  Alam and his comrades hope that it will be easier to raise their voices and demand their rights through a joint committee.  Despite the very hard life, Shams-ul-Alam hasn't lost his sense of humor.  Reminiscing on the comfortable homes they had in the past, he looks at the shanty huts of the camp and says sarcastically, "these are our bungalows now."  Alam is telling reporters and activists to write about them to create international awareness of the plight of the Rohingyas.  "Please write about our problems.  We want to live with dignity and if we are granted refugee status, it will solve our problems," says Shams-ul-Alam.

A middle-aged Rohingya Muslim has been living in Jammu since 2009.  Like many others, he too survived difficult times in Burma before he fled.  In Jammu he works as a teacher, but he got this job recently after plenty of effort.  Initially he worked as an unskilled laborer which was extremely tough for him, both physically and emotionally, yet he had to endure it.  He mentioned that it was the brutal attitude of the Burmese forces that compelled him to leave.  He stated, "you have to pay taxes for traveling from one Muslim village to another.  Is that the kind of freedom governments provide to their citizens?"

Farima Begum:
She's a 30-year-old Rohingya female and a widow.  Her village was attacked by a Buddhist mob in 2012 which killed her young husband.  She works in a small dry fruit factory earning Rs.120 a day for extracting seeds from walnuts.  The owner of the factory has provided similar work to several Rohingya children as well. All female Rohingya refugees are working.  Those unable to find jobs at workplaces become rag pickers and scrap collectors.

Like Shams-ul-Alam, Karimullah also believes that official recognition of refugee status is vital for them.  "Recognition is the main thing" he said.  "No one owns us.  We don't have a country.  We don't have any land.  We have to beg to authorities to provide water.  We were living happily, working and earning enough to support our families.  But the Buddhists looted everything from us," Karimullah laments.

Most daunting task that faces the Rohingya committee in Jammu:
The most important task for the committee is to acquire the official status of refugees for the entire Rohingya community of Jammu which will make them entitled to the daily, much needed amenities, like electricity, sanitation, clean water and schooling for their children.  Presently there are about 50 Rohingya families in Jammu (approximately 385 individuals).  That number is proliferating faster than expected because the process of ethnic cleansing is endless in Burma and Muslims are constantly fleeing.  Though not all are coming to Jammu, many are.   Committee chairman, Shams-ul-Alam says that getting recognition and acquiring refugee status won't be easy because India is not a signatory of the UN convention of refugees.

UNHCR and Jammu & Kashmir Sakhawat Center:
Neither the Indian government nor the provincial government of Kashmir are doing anything to assist the Rohingya refugees.  The only two organizations helping them are UNHCR and the Jammu & Kashmir Sakhawat Center.

The UNHCR has provided 40 out of the 50 families in Jammu with temporary refugee cards and a monthly allowance of Rs.1,000 per family.  In dollars, that would be very little money and considering the back breaking inflation in India, it's a pittance.  But something is better than nothing.

As in all refugee communities, the number of Rohingya refugee children are more than adults.  Because of the aggressive nature of ethnic cleansing in Burma going from bad to worse, many Muslim children were forced to quit school.  Most of them have missed months and months of schooling.  The Jammu & Kashmir Sakhawat Centre which is associated with the charitable organization called Iqbal Memorial Trust has established a kindergarten or pre-primary school for Rohingya children within the premises of their camp where all subjects are taught in English. The school is providing free education to 250 children which is a remarkable achievement by the J&K Sakhawat Centre.  Rohingya parents are very pleased with this development.  Additionally, the Rohingyas have also set up a religious school so the children can divide their time between the two institutions.

The problem of radical Hindu groups:
Fundamentalist Hindu groups like shiv sena, shiv sena hindustan and several more are proving be be quite a nuisance as expected.  They are not at all happy about the Rohingya refugees coming to occupied Kashmir and are getting louder with their opposition to their presence in Jammu.  They could be up to any sort of mischief in the future.

Eviction notice from Jammu:
In October of 2012, the Jummu police gave an eviction notice to all Rohingyas with the excuse that Kashmiri freedom fighters (whom Indians call "militants") could mix in the guise of Rohingya refugees.  It was a lame excuse aimed at harassment.  The Rohingyas are a humble and transparent community busy with the mundane issues of their very difficult lives.  For a couple of months the Rohingya community was extremely worried and tense without any alternatives in case they were forced to leave. However it turned out to be disputed news and some state authorities denied issuing such orders.

The Rohingyas continue to live in Jammu with hopes of getting legal recognition as refugees sooner rather than later.

[Information compiled from the visit of a Muslim photo-journalist, Wasif Ali, to the refugee camp for Rohingyas in Jammu City].

A Rohingya Muslim is killed by a buddhist mob in Burma while he was trying to flee the genocide. The mob threw his body in the river.

Rohingyas arrive in Jammu - in police custody.

Rohinya shanty huts - Kiryana Talab Camp.

A little Rohingya boy in Jammu's Kiryana Talab Camp waits for his parents to return home.

Haroon Rashid showing his affidavit which he had to submit to the Burmese govt. informing them of his marriage.

Karimullah's temporary refugee card by UNHCR.

Rohingya women working in a dry fruit factory (walnut unit) in Jammu.

Religious school for Rohinya children at Kiryana Talab Camp, Jammu.