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Rohingyas at the crossroads

Noora Begum, centre, fled Myanmar following the recent security crackdown [Sunaina Kumar/Al Jazeera]

By Javaid Iqbal Bhat, Greater Kashmir

We mirror each other in our double standards

The fate of the Rohingya Muslims in the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir hangs in the balance. From Myanmar where even tonsured monks in sacred garbs participated in their chase out of their homeland, they have moved out to several countries. The figures vary from 2 to 3 lakh. One of the destinations where providence has landed them is the city of temples, Jammu. Out of all the Rohingyas in India, who have arrived through the smuggling routes of Bangladesh after paying human traffickers, around fifty percent live in the outskirts of Jammu, and in Samba. The number according to the government as on January 2017 is 5743. Their arrival began around 2008, and climaxed after the military crackdown on them in the native Myanmar, some months after a military post had come under attack.

India is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, in spite of which a number of NGOs have built pressure on the government to provide a humanitarian face to the flow of refugees from outside. Mostly, things were going well with the Rohingyas in India until some years ago when suddenly some right wing groups rose against their presence, and cried foul. And the word doing rounds is demography. That demography is going to be changed by the long term presence and settlement of the Rohingyas, who are Muslims. Most people who write from Kashmir about the matter, and most of whom are Muslims, feel aghast at the treatment given to these refugees. How far is this feeling genuine?

On a humanitarian level there is no doubt that the series of events leading to the torching of their shacks is unfortunate. The putting up of billboards threatening these men and women of dire consequences if they do not immediately leave the place, the beating up of family members by unknown men at night, and the latest threat by Jammu Chamber of Commerce of identifying and killing the refugees are all part of a well-understood design to create conditions for their eviction from Jammu. Even political parties like the National Panthers Party have supported the apprehensions of demographic change in the city in the wake of the inflow of refugees. Emotions aside, and the threats and inflictions of violence condemned, there are double standards visible from almost all sides. When native Kashmiri Muslims call for a better treatment of Rohingyas, a right to their settlement in Jammu, what they are actually evoking is a religious solidarity. The question may then be asked whether similar right to settlement and livelihood will be granted to the swarm of Indians who arrive in Kashmir in summer. Or let us say some Hindu refugees come from Bangladesh, and by some stroke of luck decide to settle in Kashmir.

One can argue that the Indians in Kashmir are not refugees for they have homes outside of Kashmir but then refugees are of all kinds of shades. There are, for example, refugees from poverty. Can we have similar thoughts about them, and give them similar latitude as is aspired for the Roghingyas in Jammu? We do see a design behind the creation of colonies and camps, but conveniently choose to read innocence on the part of the Roghingyas in Jammu. All kinds of sanctimonious speeches are given about the state of Rohingyas in Burma and Jammu. They are well-meaning but partial.

On the other hand, a good chunk of population of Jammu is fine with the identification documents being issued to the refugees from West Pakistan. Even if these refugees begin to share jobs with them in the armed forces, there is no questioning that, again displaying a conspicuous religious solidarity. There is also not a problem if colonies of different hues are made in Kashmir, and homeland for Kashmiri Pandits is created in Kashmir, where everything from India can be allowed move freely. All of these ideas which, according to them, have nothing unfair about them and should be implemented for the greater good of the people. The tears shed when anyone from any state of India is harmed in Kashmir disappear in case of the Rohingyas. The apprehensions of demographic change in this context are just anti-national rants, which lack substance. It is demographic change when a religious stranger appears in the neighbourhood and just plain requirement if a similar stranger appears in Kashmir. We mirror each other in our double standards. They wish them out, we wish them in, and both have a purpose in mind, which does not necessarily favour either.

The problem is that both Rohingyas and other people flying home for various reasons into Jammu and Kashmir, actually enter into a place which is itself a peculiar refugee from and peace and political certainty. When two refugees meet, you can only have chaotic ambiguities and contradictions in positions of the stakeholders. The refugees from peace, in the pursuit of their fond dream, produce distant connections. None wishes to find the reason for being in such a state of vivid contradiction and hypocrisy. One set of people do not seem to comprehend the anxieties of the other, and swift about-faces are common. In spite of having certificates from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Rohingyas in Jammu will often be seen in news in the future. Their shacks will be torched and their families harassed. They may have arrived in this state with the hope of finding co-religionists and a degree of comfort; however, they do not seem to know that they have arrived into a place which might turn out to be more hostile to them than the native Rakhine region of Burma. While it is uncertain what will happen of them in the future, they may choose to stay despite the odds or leave for their life, what might happen is that the conversation about them may open the path to the disclosure of our Janus faces.