Seven jhuggis, five of which housed Rohingya Muslim families from Myanmar, were gutted in a fire at a settlement opposite Shri Amarnath Yatri Niwas at Bhagwati Nagar in Jammu in the early hours of Friday. The residents escaped unhurt.
Sub-Inspector Neelam Saini, in charge of the local Canal Road police post, attributed the fire to an electric short circuit as several live wires hung around the jhuggis. The victims, on the other hand, suspected sabotage. There was no electricity supply to their jhuggis when the incident took place, they said. Of the gutted jhuggis, five housed Rohingya families, while the remaining two housed a labourer from Bihar and a widow, respectively, sources said. The plot had nine jhuggis.
SSP, Jammu, Dr Sunil Gupta, said that though prima facie it did not appear to be a case of sabotage, they were probing the matter further.
Noor-ul-Islam (26), whose jhuggi was gutted, said he and his parents were asleep when his father woke up around 1 am, saying that he heard footsteps outside. “I came out of the jhuggi, but found no one and returned to bed,’’ he said. About two hours later, he woke up to find the jhuggi on fire, he said.
Noor-ul-Islam raised an alarm and informed the landowner Farman Ali, a transporter who lives at the nearby Puran Nagar. Ali rushed to the spot with his son. “We brought the women and children out of their jhuggis and informed the police,” he said. The police and fire brigade reached around 4 am, but seven jhuggis had been reduced to ashes by then, Ali recalled.
According to Ali, each of these families pay him a rent between Rs 500-600 for living on the plot of land opposite the Shri Amarnath Yatri Niwas, which acts as a base camp for Amarnath pilgrims.
“Except for the clothes we are wearing, everything, including our rickshaws, ration and our children’s books have been lost in the fire,’’ said Madansa, the labourer from Bihar.
Significantly, the incident came four days after some Rohingya families living at Patta Bohri on the outskirts of Jammu alleged that unidentified people beat them up and set ablaze the scrap they collected to earn a livelihood. The police have registered a case in the matter but no one has been arrested so far.
Both these incidents occurred days after the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry threatened to launch an “identify and kill movement’’ against Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshi nationals if the state government did not deport them within a week.
However, such incidents of mysterious fire at Rohingya settlements started taking place in Bhagwati Nagar area much earlier. Last month, a jhuggi belonging to Myanmar national Lool Amin, who came to India nearly a decade ago, was gutted in a fire that broke out at a nearby piece of land belonging to one Sohan Singh. As per the J&K government’s data, as on January 2017, 13,755 foreigners were living in the state. Of them, 5,743 are Rohingya Muslims living in Jammu and Samba districts.
These Myanmar nationals, who have refugee certificates issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, have been coming to Jammu for over a decade now. A few months ago, separatists and mainstream politicians in Kashmir started opposing the issuance of identity certificates to Hindu refugees from west Pakistan settling in Jammu, saying that it is part of a design to “change demography of the state’’.