By Umar Manzoor Shah
The coalition government of conflict-torn Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, is facing a new threat to its unity as demands by pro-Hindu parties to deport Rohingya refugees continue to gain steam.
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one of India’s two biggest parties, wants the Rohingya Muslims sent back to Myanmar despite tens if not hundreds of thousands having fled the country claiming religious persecution.
This has created a rift with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the BJP’s smaller coalition partner in this expansive northern state that borders Pakistan.
The PDP has refuted claims by the BJP that the Rohingya are a threat to national security who could be used by Muslim militants to attack India, as the issue continues to divide Hindus and Muslims in the region.
“The BJP should not communalize the settlement of the Rohingya Muslims in the state,” PDP spokesperson Rafi Ahmad Mir said in a statement that was openly critical of the coalition partner.
Mir told ucanews.com on Feb. 26 that the Rohingya in India are not illegal immigrants but are properly registered refugees according to the terms laid out by the United Nations.
He said they should be “protected by the international law of which India, too, is a signatory.”
Hindu groups have accused the Rohingya of shielding and supporting Islamic militants who they claim are fighting the Indian army to free the region from New Delhi’s control in a bid to create an independent Islamic state.
Mir dismissed the accusations, none of which have been proved, as bizarre figments of a collective imagination.
“The Rohingya are living in squalid, tragic conditions. Do you think they are capable of attacking an army?” he asked.
“These are communal and political statements and they are completely groundless.”
The state serves as home to 1,219 Rohingya families making up a total of 5,107 people, according to official records. Most live in makeshift shanties on roadsides and work as daily laborers or collecting scrap.
Harsh Dev Singh, a senior leader of the pro-Hindu Panthers Party, sees the Rohingya refugee issue as a “ticking time bomb” that needs to be defused without delay.
He has launched a campaign to stop the Rohingya settling in the state out of concern they enjoy the patronage of Pakistan-based terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
“We will intensify our protests unless the Rohingya are deported from the state soon,” Singh told ucanews.com
“They are destroying the state and we won’t stand by silently and watch.”
Mir said the campaign against the Rohingya is based largely on religious differences.
“The Rohingya are Muslims. The politicians want to communalize the situation to eke out political gains,” he said.
“But they are also human beings and have certain rights. The hate campaign against them must stop without further delay,” he added.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled their native Rakhine State following violence and discriminatory treatment in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The Myanmar government considers them migrants from Bangladesh, where they also face discrimination.
PDP President Mehbooba Mufti, who also serves as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, told legislators last year there are no confirmed cases of the Rohingya being tied to incidents related to militants.