On the evening of March 6, following instructions by the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police, Mohammad Abdul, a Rohingya refugee, sent his son, Mohammad Yasin, 26, to the M.A.M stadium for verification from Channi Rama police line, one of the localities inhabited by the immigrants in Jammu. Two days later, Abdul was informed that his son, who worked as a daily wager, has been detained and sent to a ‘holding centre’.
Nearly 168 Rohingya refugees who had escaped persecution from Myanmar and were living in Jammu were reportedly rounded up on Saturday, March 6, as a part of “verification process” and later detained. As per the reports, holding centres, in Kathua district’s Hira Nagar sub-jail, have been set up after the Home Department notification under Section 3(2)e of Foreigners Act that enables Government of India to make provision for prohibiting, regulating or restricting the entry of foreigners into India.
The move has drawn the flak from numerous sections in the newly formed Union Territory. The Opposition has questioned the move, with Congress leader Salman Nizami tweeting, “In Jammu, there are 7,690 Tibetans & 5,743 Rohingya refugees. But 155 Rohingyas sent to holding centres. Why verification for Rohingyas only just because they are Muslim? This exposes BJP Govt's Islamophobic & inhumane nature!"
Fear has gripped Rohingyas who see the sequence of events as a part of preparations to deport them. Mohammad Imam, one of the refugees who was allowed to leave after the “verification”, said that they don’t want to leave. “We are thankful to India for giving us space to live. We don’t want to go back. Once normalcy returns in Burma, we will quietly go back,” he added.
Abdul, whose son has been detained, told NewsClick that he was expecting his son back after the verification process. “The police came to our area and took the names of men and women asking them to visit the stadium for verification process. We have nothing to hide, so we sent our sons and daughters.”
Also read: Jammu: BJP Minister Jitendra Singh’s Statement on Rohingyas’ Deportation Draws Flak
Soon after the verification process got over, Yasin called Abdul to inform that they are being taken in buses to some “unknown place.” “After which his phone was switched off. Everyone from our area who was taken to the jail had their phones switched off. We were scared,” he added.
Another Rohingya refugee, who requested anonymity, said that they got to about the detentions only through news channels. “Through news channels, we learnt that they have been kept in detention centres. We have failed to understand what was their crime and why their phones were switched off,” the refugee said.
Mohammad Imam, 22, from Channi Rama, who was also taken for verification was allowed to leave after general questioning. Giving details about the process, he told NewsClick, “I was asked to fill up a form while they kept asking questions. I was asked to leave along with my wife. The rest were taken to jail. We are very scared. We really don’t know what is happening.”
As soon as the news of refugees taken to “holding centre” became public, the refugees living at several locations of Jammu assembled near Bathinda Police Station on Sunday demanding to know the whereabouts of their relatives.
“We demanded that either they detain all of us or set everyone free. But don’t separate us,” said one of the protesters.
Not Detention Centres but “New Accommodation”
As per the refugees, the in-charges from all the locations were called by the DSP for a meeting on Sunday night. Abdul was one among them. “We were told that everyone will be sent to these holding centres. These are not detention centres but new places of ‘accommodation’, however, people can’t step out without permission (from those centres),” Abdul told NewsClick.
Another refugee who attended the meeting said, “They said we will be given clothes and food and everything, but we believe we won’t be allowed to work. They have also asked us to seek permission to step out.”
Also see: For Rohingya Women in Jammu, Sewing Machine Becomes Tool of Empowerment
Meanwhile, political commentators have claimed that the “holding centres” are new detention centres with a name change. In February 2020, the Division bench of Jammu and Kashmir High Court had directed the UT administration to file its response within a month regarding the “measures taken so far to identify and deport illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh camping in the region”.
Sustained Campaign by Right Wing
Among the most persecuted communities in the world, Rohingya refugees are largely a Muslim ethnic community in Buddhist majority Myanmar. Since 2014, there has been a sustained campaign in Jammu reportedly by right-wing activists and alleged members of the Bharatiya Janata Party to remove Rohingyas from the region.
This hate campaign has led to the creation of a narrative that Rohingya settlements will bring demographic changes in the regions. It is important to note that there are only around 6,500 Rohingya Muslims living in Jammu.
Last year, Union Minister Jitendra Singh, from the ruling BJP, had said that Rohingyas living in Jammu will be deported since they won’t be able to secure citizenship under Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which had inspired major protests across India.
In yet another incident, in 2018, local newspapers were replete with one-page advertisements demanding the need and urgency to remove Rohingyas from Jammu.
There has been no response from Jammu Divisional Commissioner or IGP Jammu on the incident, despite several attempts by NewsClick to contact them. The story will be updated accordingly.