Not be reliant on charity; it is a basic human right: Rohingyas in India

Photo: Farah Rafeeq/Maktoob

Aslah Kayyalakkath

The future of around 40,000 Rohingya who live in India hangs in the balance as the Supreme Court of India hears petitions against central government decision to deport them.

In August last year, the BJP ruling government had announced it was planning to deport Rohingya refugees living in the country, that it considers the Rohingya ‘a security threat’.

In a PIL in the top court of India titled Union of India vs Mohammed Salimullah, the petitioners have been seeking a mechanism to stop push back of the Rohingya refugees.

The Supreme Court is hearing an appeal lodged on behalf of Rohingya against the deportation plan proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

‘Rohingyas are not illegal immigrants but refugees and have no connection with any criminal activities, much less any terrorist activity or militancy’, Mohammad Salimullah and Shaqir, two petitioners from the Rohingya community have said in a rejoinder affidavit filed before the Supreme Court of India.

And the court on Friday directed central the appointment of nodal officers whom parents and guardians of Rohingyas could approach if their children were being deprived of benefits in health and education.

The direction was conceded by a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra after the court was submitted that children of Rohingyas were being starved of basic facilities.

Double stand

The Rohingya refugees who came to India during the mass genocide in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, have settled in Delhi, states of Jammu, Telangana, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

The Rohingya in India moved in larger family units.

Among 40,000, there are 17,500 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR India.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government offers recognition for two refugee groups, Tamils of Sri Lanka and Tibetans because of religious (Hindu) and ethnic connections while the government does not officially recognise Rohingyas as refugees.

There are presently 110,000 Tibetans and 102,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in India legitimately as refugees. 

India is allowing citizenship to more than 100,000 Hindu Hajongs and Buddhist Chakmas who came to India in the 1960s from Bangladesh and Pakistan. And India has also started accepting Tibetans who born in India between 1950 and 1987 as citizens.

Here, the BJP ruling government’s plan to deport all Rohingyas back to Myanmar seems to be prompted by the fact that the Rohingyas are primarily Muslims.

Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioners, alleged that the central government was treating Rohingya refugees differently from other refugees.

‘The same rules made for Sri Lankan refugees should be applicable to the Rohingyas too’, Bhushan said in Court.

Bhushan said the government had reached an understanding that Sri Lankan refugees would ‘have access to education and healthcare, which Rohingya refugees are being denied’, Live Law reported.

Last year, Modi’s administration said it had evidence of terrorist links between India-based Rohingya and groups such as Islamic State. Hugged by Hindutva centers and right-wing nationalists, the deportation plan is currently being discussed in India’s Supreme Court.

Photo:Farah Rafeeq/Maktoob

Rohingya in India voiced worries that they were being unfairly tainted by the allegations and sought more understanding for their plight.

Right-wing groups and Hindu nationalists in India have already begun vilifying Rohingya living there.

‘We have experienced much scrutiny by the authorities, racist abuses by online media outlets and physical threats by right wings’ Ali Johar told Maktoob.

‘For a respected life in India, we need a safe place to stay. This should not be reliant on charity; it is a basic human right.’ Ali said.

Rights groups criticize the deportation plan as a sign of the fundamental shift in India’s traditional response in many areas of governance, since Modi rode to power in 2014.

‘We feel hopeless. We left Burma out of fear and still living in fear.’ Jafar, 26, a riksha driver told Maktoob.

‘I am waiting for a positive and humanitarian judgement from Supreme Court of India. I hope deportation will not happen.’ Mohammad Salimullah, the petitioner responded.

‘Where we will go? Burma? They will kill us if we are sent back.’ Salimullah said.

‘Yes, we did it and we do again’

‘It was one in the midnight when I reached camp. Since I had some work, I sat with my laptop, and I dozed of around 2 AM. Around 3:15, I woke hearing cries of my neighbors and the rush to flee from there. Everyone including women and children were fleeing from the place. The camp was on fire, and everyone were in rush to a safer place. The situation was very unstable, and within 20 minutes our settlement was completely destroyed by fire. Our helpless situation forced us to just stand there not knowing what to do.’ Ali Johar, a resident of Rohingya Refugee Camp, Delhi remembered.

In another addition to the sorrows of Rohingya refugees, a massive fire in India’s Delhi’s camp on April 15 rendered around 246 of them homeless.

The fire in the Kalindi Kunj camp of Rohingya originated from the right corner of the camp where the residents had a tent used as a mosque, madrasa and a small office in which people associated with different NGO’s helped them.

The Delhi Rohingya camp was also called as ‘Darul Hijrat’, abode for Rohingya Refugees by Zakat Foundation of India, whom belongs to the land.

Within half an hour, all 50 houses in the Rohingya camp in Delhi’s south-eastern locality had been burnt to the ground. Since many of the tents are made of sheet and have plastic layers, the fire spread fast. Some of the tents had gas cylinders that burst, adding to the flagrancy of the fire,

No major casualty was reported, however two people sustained minor burn injuries. Most of the residents lost all their belongings, including household items, money and documents.

‘Everyone’s documents was burnt to ashes’ Ali said.

‘We lost our shop and savings; my research papers, laptop and certificates and awards are all gone.’ Ali said.

Ali Johar has been a refugee in India since 2012, currently pursuing his B.A from Delhi University and has been living in the camp for about four years.

The residents lost all the documents that they had to show to prove their origin in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. All they had the refugee cards issued by the UNHCR.

‘Since we have no bank accounts, we used to keep our savings in our tents. Most of us lost our savings.’ Abdusalam, a resident of camp told Maktoob.

Fatima, 25, lost her tiny shop in the fire. But with some financial help from NGOs and loans from her relatives, restarted her business.

About 55 minutes after the blaze broke out, two fire forces reached the camp. Eight others followed. It took them over two and half hours to douse the flames, residents said.

‘Immediately I informed the fire force, who arrived only after 55 minutes.’ Ali said.

By the noon of next day, most of the Rohingya families had settled under a temporary tent set up by non-government organizations like Zakat Foundations, students of Jamia Millia Islamia and some locals.

They rallied in support, setting up alternative shelters and providing medical assistance. Volunteers began to bring the food, clothes and other essentials for residents.

Till the day evening, none of the residents had any idea about the cause of the fire. And the police and fire department have not yet been able to found the cause of the incident.

The fire, in which 55 Rohingya families became homeless, stirred controversy after a Hindutva militant activist Manish Chandela took to twitter to claim that he had burnt the camp.

On April 15, Chandela tweeted from his account, “Yes, we did it and we do again. #ROHINGYA QUIT INDIA.”

There was a hatred campaign in social media against Rohingyas by cyber wing of BJP and other Hindutva groups following the hashtags of ‘Rohingya Quit India’.

Chandela, a youth wing leader of BJP, deleted his twitter account following intense backlash and call for act from various communities, including All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), umbrella body of all Muslim organisations, Mr. Prashant Bhushan, the public interest lawyer and activist and other rights activists.

Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan filed a criminal complaint also against Chandela accusing him of stirring communal hatred and disturbing peace.

‘The fire comes at a time of extreme political and physical uncertainty for Rohingya in India. It is not just an accidental fire.’ Ali Johar, the Rohingya youth leader said.

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