Opposition to the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, setting up of Sainik colonies for veterans and issuance of domicile certificate to West Pakistani refugees as attempts to change the demography is not only perplexing but smells of communalism, writes Brig Anil Gupta for South Asia Monitor.
By Brig Anil Gupta (Retd)
Consequent to eruption of militancy in Kashmir in the late 1980s and its extension to Doda District and Rajouri-Poonch in the 1990s, the migration of Hindu families to Jammu began. This was soon followed by migration of Muslims belonging to the militancy-affected areas. A large number of Gujjar settlements also erupted all of a sudden close to the International Border and around Jammu City.
However, this was followed by a very serious event which appears like a well-planned conspiracy to alter the demography of Jammu. A large number of members of a particular community commenced buying landed and built-up properties in parts of Greater Jammu. Even illegal encroachments of forest and government land by them were ignored by the government machinery.
During the last decade-and-half exclusive Muslim colonies have mushroomed around Jammu, some of them openly advertising in papers that plots will be sold to Muslims only. Though being illegal, these colonies are provided amenities like water and electricity by the government machinery. The settlements have been planned in such a manner that Hindu-dominated localities have been encircled.
Jammu is basically a Hindu-dominated area. In 1981, there were only two Muslim-dominated localities within the city. As per official figures of 1986-87, the religion-wise breakdown of Jammu was Hindus 88.5 per cent, Muslims 4.5 per cent, Sikhs 6.4 per cent and others 0.6 per cent. Thereafter, due to disturbed conditions in the state, proper census could not be conducted in 1991 and 2001.
As per Census-2011 which included religion-wise breakdown in the population data, the same for Greater Jammu is Hindus 78.36 per cent, Muslims 10.97 per cent and Sikhs 8.74 per cent.
It is essential to identify the factors that have led to this change. While there has been constant decline in the Hindu population (10.4 per cent since 1986-87 -- the year of eruption of militancy), the Muslim population has more than doubled during the same period.
The growth rate is a major factor -- Muslim growth rate is 24 per cent against the national average of 18 per cent. Another factor is migration from the Valley and other parts of Jammu region. Hindus from Jammu have migrated to other parts of the country. Though the majority of Kashmiri Muslims have acquired property in Jammu, they prefer to spend the summers in the Valley and return to Jammu in winters. Many have also shifted to Jammu to ensure smooth and continuous education for their children.
The governments in the past turned a blind eye to grabbing of state/forest land by Kashmiri Muslim migrants. Huge properties on these lands have been built by politicians, bureaucrats, police officials and government servants. The corrupt officials of the revenue department have not only helped these settlers grab the state/forest land adjacent to the National Highway and outskirts of the city but are also involved in altering the revenue records.
Taking the shelter of militancy, the nomadic tribes have settled in large numbers around Jammu. Apart from grabbing forest land, they have also taken on lease/bought from the locals land at very high rates and built settlements all along the possible routes of infiltration. They have also been allotted “Pattas”, a system to help landless locals in which state land is leased to them for a fixed annual rent, with the active connivance of the concerned government officials.
Emotional migration of Hindus is another contributory factor. The lack of higher educational facilities and job opportunities in Jammu has led to large number of youth moving to other cities/metros of the country leaving behind their parents. When parents grow old and are unable to manage due to inadequate medical facilities, they also prefer to leave Jammu to join the children. This makes land/property available for sale and migrants offer lucrative rates, often more than the prevailing market rate, to buy such properties thus adding to the demographic shift.
The source of funding remains a major suspense. Some fingers point towards Hurriyat and ISI as part of a well thought out strategy. NRI funding and liberal flow of petro-dollars to promote Salafism could also be the contributors. Most of these settlers prefer to retain property at their ancestral places as well thus ruling out sale of ancestral property as a legitimate source of funding.
Till early 1980s, there were only two known Muslim localities in Jammu. Thereafter, the number of colonies started mushrooming around the periphery of the old city and towards the North. Today there are more than 30 such colonies all around Jammu city in addition to about equal number of Gujjar bastis.
Jammu has also been victim to large-scale illegal immigrants belonging to the same community. These illegal foreign migrants belong to Bangladesh and Myanmar. The migration took place during the period 1998-2012. The migration, to a large extent, was backed by the politico-police nexus. Some of them even managed to acquire Citizenship and Voter Cards. Since these are illegal migrants, their figures are not included in the Census-2011. If their numbers are also added to the official figures, the increase in Muslim population will be even higher upsetting the demographic balance.
As per the government, 13,400 Myanmarese and Bangladeshi migrants are living in camps in Jammu. The actual figures are much more than the official figures.
The Myanmarese immigrants. the Rohingyas, belong to the Arakan region of Myanmar bordering Bangladesh. They follow Sunni Islam and belong to Indo-Aryan ethnicity. In 1982, the Myanmar government declared them as non-nationals thus rendering them stateless. This led to their migration to neighbouring Bangladesh, Thailand and even Pakistan. However, they were not welcomed in these Muslim countries as well. This led to their influx into India through the porous border with Bangladesh.
As per official estimates, there are 36,000 Rohingyas settled in seven states in India namely Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradeh, Kerala, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi.
Almost 1,700 Rohingya families comprising approximately 8,500 souls (official figures are 1,286 and 5,000, respectively) live in the settlement colonies of Rajiv Nagar, Kassim Nagar, Malik Market, Bahu Fort, Karyini Talab, Channi Rama, Vidhata Nagar, Railway Basti, Kargil Colony and Bhatindi areas of Jammu.
Bhatindi Ka Plot is home to the highest number of Rohingya migrants -- 686 in total as stated by the Chief Minister in the legislative assembly. Many of them have acquired refugee status from UNHCR thus adding to plethora of “refugee” communities in Jammu region. As per official estimates, approximately 186 families are illegal and not registered with UNHCR.
Illegal settlements have mushroomed in areas such as Gol Gujral, Nandini Seora, and Tope. The J&K government has provided them basic amenities including health care and Anganwari schools. A madrassa is also being run by a fellow migrant Maulana Shafiq in Narwal Bala. A large number of NGOs and philanthropic organisations also help them besides benefiting from 'zakat' (charity).
Though majority of them earn their livelihood through daily labour and employment in local shops, dhabas, restaurants, and car washing stations, involvement of some of them in petty and heinous crimes cannot be ruled out. Due to fear of being deported, they prefer to avoid any controversy at present but the possibility of some black sheep among them is likely.
Jammu and its adjoining areas have also become safe haven for illegal Bangladeshi migrants who were brought here in the 1990s by unscrupulous contractors with the promise of helping them migrate to Pakistan through the Jammu border. They used to come in hordes. After repeated failed attempts to cross over to Pakistan, they gradually began to settle down in Jammu.
As per government of India figures given in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, in November 2016, there were around 2 crore illegal Bangladeshi immigrants staying in India. Their exact number in J&K is not known but is guessed to be approximately 10,000. Since they are not granted refugee status and are not registered with UNHCR, they are all illegal. They are staying in shantytowns in Muslim neighbourhoods.
Majority of the male members work as skilled labour like electricians, plumbers, welders, guards, gardeners, blacksmith etc., while the female members work as domestic help generally with Muslim families. They speak Hindi fluently and have merged well with the local population. They even migrate during summer to the Valley with well-to-do Muslim families, bureaucrats and police officers. Many of them have managed to obtain ration cards, voter cards, Aaadhar cards and Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC). They are suspected to be involved in crime as well as anti-national activities at the behest of the local mullahs and maulvis. It is also learnt that attempt is being made to motivate them to join ‘jehad’.
To add to these are Muslim migrants from states like Delhi, UP and Bihar. They number about 25,000 to 30,000 and work mainly as skilled labour and contractors. Some of them have even managed to acquire properties through marriages with local Muslim girls.
This demographic change will lead to increased influence of Hurriyat and other pro-separatist and pro-Pakistan elements in the communally-sensitive Jammu region which has so far displayed maturity and tolerance. It will further assist in Pakistan’s design of portraying the entire state of J&K as disturbed and disputed; provide a trigger for communal violence; provide logistics assistance and rest and recoupment base for terrorists; and create a dormant terror network to be activated at an opportune moment.
The demographic shift in favour of a particular community having record of supporting anti-national elements can have an adverse impact on national security interests -- one of the two foreign terrorists killed in south Kashmir in October last year was identified as a native of Myanmar -- and make the area vulnerable to radicalisation.
A few notorious families also indulge in smuggling of bovines thus hurting the local sentiments and creating a sense of fear and panic among the locals through crimes and mafia-like activities.
It is evident that the silence of those who oppose any move facilitating honourable return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, Sainik colonies for veterans and issue of Domicile Certificate to West Pakistani refugees on the pretext of attempt to change the demography is not only perplexing but smells of communalism.
If not addressed well in time, it could become a communal flash point in the hitherto peaceful region. Jammu is fast emerging as a ticking timebomb.
(The writer is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)