At around 1.30 am, on Sunday, Mohammad Shakir, a daily wage labourer, woke up to the screams outside his shanty. He quickly put on his t-shirt and stepped outside – only to find people crying and running. Before he could come to his senses, his neighbour pulled his hand, and ran. The fire had engulfed the entire slum settlement at Maratha Basti. From a distance, Shakir could only see smoke, as his house was being reduced to ashes. Shakir, a Rohingya, has been living for past eight years in the settlement.
In the wee hours of June 3, around 150 shacks were burnt to ground, as massive fire broke out in the Maratha Basti in Jammu. Most of the residents escaped unhurt with minor injuries to a few.
Two kilometres away from the Jammu railway station, Maratha Basti is home to migrant labourers from different states of India as well as Rohingyas. As per the locals, the name Maratha Basti is attributed to the fact that migrant Marathi labourers were the first ones to move in to this place, following which labourers from other states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal moved and the recent influx has been of the Rohingya migrants. This is the third fire that the settlement has witnessed in the last three years. Recalling the entire episode, Vishal, a Marathi migrant labourer, told NewsClick, “At around 1.30 am, we came to know that the fire has spread in the entire settlement. The fire had started from the side of Rohingyas’ huts and had spread across. Everyone was running. Women with their kids, men without vests. There was no time to gather and take anything along. Money, Clothes, utensils, food items, everything was reduced to ashes. Nothing was spared, not even money.”
As Zakir (name changed) woke up, fire had almost reached his shanty. He took his toddler in arms, rushed outside with his wife. In the scorching heat of the Jammu city, Zakir was sitting on the ground in despair looking at his kid and wife. “We have nothing left. All that I have earned is gone. All I have is this trouser that I am wearing.”
An NGO named ‘Aradhana, A ray of hope’ was distributing food and water to the affected families.
‘Rohingyas should leave’
The cause of fire is not yet known, but the episode has brought to the fore the animosity between the two communities. The migrant labourers from different states of India have put the blame on the Rohingyas for this episode. Vishal, who is also the head of the community, said, “I have been living here since last 35 years. But since these Rohingyas have moved in, we have witnessed three episodes of fire in last three years. They indulge in illegal activities and we want them to leave the Basti. Trust me, if they will leave, there will be no fire.”
NewsClick was at the spot when former Deputy CM and BJP leader Kavinder Gupta came and assured help to the migrant labourers, but ignored the Rohingyas who were sitting a few metres away.
Rohingyas have refuted these allegations made by the other migrant labourers. “We are not involved in any illegal activity. In fact, we never even get into an argument with the members of other communities. We have been living peacefully. May be, they want us to leave and are hence, cooking up these stories. You saw Kavinder Gupta, top BJP leader came and didn’t meet us. He could have met us on humanitarian grounds. But, no,” said one of the Rohingya refugees.
Hundreds of Rohingya refugees live in different camps in Jammu, and Maratha Basti is one them. This is not an isolated incident. In 2017, five Rohingya jhuggis were engulfed in fire at a settlement opposite Shri Amarnath Yatri Niwas at Bhagwati Nagar, Jammu.
Newsclick has earlier reported how Rohingyas have been targeted by Hindutva groups in Jammu. In 2018, a few local newspapers had dedicated their front pages to galvanise people against the Rohingyas. An advertisement in Early Times read: “Threat to Rohingyas looms large over the heads of the peace-loving Jammuites. Let’s unite to save Jammu.”
Rohingya community, a Muslim minority, has fled Rakhine state after facing persecution by the Buddhist government in Myanmar for the past several years. They have settled in different states of India – majorly in Delhi and Jammu.
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