Protesters march through the streets of Jammu city demanding the deportation of Rohingya from Jammu and Kashmir state on April 11. (Photo by Umar Manzoor Shah)
Hundreds of Hindus marched on the streets of Jammu city on April 11 as part of an intensified campaign calling for the deportation of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.
Roads were deserted and businesses, schools and colleges were shut in the Hindu stronghold as various Hindu groups protested what they called government inaction in removing the refugees from the state.
"The Rohingya are living in Jammu illegally and want to criminalize our society," said Paviter Singh, a leader of Jammu Province People's Forum that supported the shutdown protests. "We will keep protesting" until the government deport Rohingya from the state, he said.
Udhay Chand, a chief of the pro-Hindu Duggar Pradesh Party, told ucanews.com that the federal government has failed to handle the Rohingya issue by not organizing refugee camps near the border with Myanmar as per guidelines of a U.N. resolution. The failure has allowed refugees to scatter across the entire country, especially in the Jammu region, he said.
An estimated 40,000 Rohingya now live in India after more than 670,000 of them fled their native Rakhine State following a Myanmar military counter-insurgency campaign against Rohingya militants beginning August 2017.
The federal government announced a plan in December to deport all Rohingya Muslims from India, but that is being contested in the country's Supreme Court. Two Rohingya refugees — Mohammad Salimullah and Mohammad Shaqir — petitioned the Supreme Court last November, which resulted in the deportation moves being suspended.
Hindu groups say that the estimated 5,000 Rohingya refugees — who mostly live in makeshift shanties in Jammu — could play into the hands of local Islamic militants who seek to free the Muslim-dominated state from Indian rule.
Manish Sahni, state general secretary of the Hindu party Shiv Sena, said the protests are a "warning to the government to take stern action against the illegal settlement of Rohingya or be ready to face dire consequences."
Sahni said that the Rohingya must be deported from Jammu because "they have polluted our culture and making the society worse with each passing day."
Tasleem Ahsraf, a Muslim civil society activist in Kashmir, said the protests are aimed at placating Hindu sentiments ahead of the national elections in 2019.
"Otherwise, what is the reason to shut schools and business against few hundred people who eke out living by collecting scarp on the roads?" asked Ashraf said. "This is utterly insane and vicious," she added.
A ucanews.com reporter spoke with several Rohingya refugees in Jammu but they were too afraid to be interviewed about the protests.
Muslim groups in the state have denounced the deportation calls. They point out that the refugees are already living in squalid conditions and have been the target of several mob attacks.
Three people were killed and six injured on Nov. 26 last year when a Hindu mob set fire to 150 Rohingya shanties in Jammu.
Most Rohingya in the state live in the Hindu-dominated Jammu area because of its warmer climate, which is similar to their home country. Jammu and Kashmir has some 12 million people, 77 percent of them Muslims, but Hindus make up 62 percent of Jammu's population. Muslims make up 96 percent of the population in the Kashmir area.
The Hindu–Muslim demography remains a sensitive issue in the state, which continues to face armed secessionist activities. Hindu groups believe the presence of the Rohingya could exacerbate the situation and change the state's demography.
Muslim groups in India have been campaigning on behalf of the Rohingya people.