‘I just want to protect my family from rain’

  • Sameed Kakroo
  • Publish Date: Aug 5 2018 10:40PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 5 2018 10:40PM
‘I just want to protect my family from rain’

Sameed Kakroo narrates the story of Rohingya refugees, their will power to live against the odds that they are faced with

 

A frail Mohammad Ikhlaq is lost in thought, undisturbed by the kids playing with plastic bottles around him. As he unmindfully looks at the sky and sees an airplane pass, the memories of his home far away flood him, turning his eyes misty. The last six years have been painful and torturous for this man, who looks much older than his 38 years. Ikhlaq, who is from Mrauk U in Rakhine State of Myanmar, presently lives in a shanty near Bhatindi, Jammu. His poorly constructed shanty is a testimony to the hard times he is going through.

Just like Ikhlaq’s, there are 115 other Rohingya families, with more than 350 souls, living in Kiryani Tallab and all of them have stories of bullets and killings, pain and suffering, disappearances and deaths. “I clearly remember 2012, the year I came here. Things weren’t so bad back then at Mrauk U, but it wasn’t all good as well. Though we weren’t being killed, we were undergoing atrocities on a daily basis,” says Ikhlaq. 

While talking about his family, Ikhlaq is teary-eyed when he remembers his mother and brother, both of whom were killed by Burmese security forces. “They (forces) slaughtered my family in front of me. I saw it all happen, but could do nothing. I felt so helpless that day and I lost myself,” he says.

Father of three, two boys and a girl, Ikhlaq works as a scrap dealer. He earns around Rs 3000-4000 every month and feels pride in working hard. “I would prefer starving to death than to beg. Even though I have faced extreme hunger, but Almighty helps only those who help themselves,” he says. 

Living in poverty, life has been quite tough for Ikhlaq and other Rohingya refugees. One can hardly miss that these people, living in ill-constructed shanties, without sanitation and with excessive garbage in and around the area, are prone to serious health hazards. “Whenever it rains, it seems like the area gets flooded. The water enters the houses and life becomes harder,” says Syed Hussain, another Rohingya refugee.

Wearing a white Kameez Salwar, which has a lot of holes, and a skullcap, the 55-year-old Hussain firmly believes that in the end, good triumphs over evil. He claims to be pained, not disheartened, and says, “We were forced to leave our homes, but God sees it all. He will punish those who have wronged us.” 

Though Hussain claims about being a strong man, but tears roll down his cheeks when he talks about the hardships he, his family and other refugees face. “I feel extremely hurt when I am not able to protect my family during the rain. I do not have the resources to build a strong house with a  proper ceiling. It rains into the shanty and my kids and wife bear the brunt. Though they never complain, but it pains me,” he says. 

Like most other kids in Kiryani Tallab, Ikhlaq’s and Hussain’s children too go to a local school being run by the Sakhawat Centre, a social service offshoot of Iqbal Memorial Trust. The teachers are Rohingya refugees and each school has a strength of around 50-60 kids. “My son is one of the teachers. I had made him study back in Burma, and I am glad that it helps now. He teaches the kids as education is the only way our kids will pursue better lives than us,” says Yasmeena Khan.

Amidst all the attention the Rohingya refugees have been getting since 2016, they also have been at the receiving end of a lot of suspicion. In Jammu, they went through a scary period post the attack on Sunjuwan army camp, wherein 11 people, including 6 army soldiers and 4 militants were killed. Graffitis on the walls around the refugee camps, asking the Rohingyas to go back are hard to miss. 

“The situation was quite tense. Though no one came to harm us, but it wasn’t feeling right. Some local politicians even tried to blame us, which was scary,” says Mohammad Yousuf, another refugee. 

Yousuf, a 40-year-old man, shifted to Jammu in 2016 after the situation turned worse in Myanmar. Some of his relatives shifted to camps in Bangladesh and he managed to reach here. “We had to run from our homeland and the good people here protected us. All of us totally understand that if we indulge in anything untoward here, what happened to us in Burma might be repeated.” 

From providing transportation to hospitals when needed, to helping out the refugee kids in their studies, the locals living around the camp have always tried to help out the Rohingyas. “They (locals) help us whenever we go to them with a problem. They are protective of us as well and it feels good to see that people across communities, Hindus as well as Muslims, care for us,” Syed Hussain says. 

Life in Myanmar was very simple, say the refugees, who were mostly farmers. “Our produce would be sufficient to feed us and we did not have to even visit the market for anything. The Burmese forces spoiled it all. They disrupted our lives and our day to day chores. I wish we could go back in time and normalcy would resume,” Mohammad Ikhlaq says.

According to the most recently available data from the United Nations, more than 1,68,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since 2012. Following violence, more than 87,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from October 2016 to July 2017, according to the International Organisation for Migration. India hosts a significant number of Rohingya refugees as well, with their number around 40,000 according to various agencies. The refugees have been living in Delhi, Hyderabad, Jammu, Kashmir, West Bengal and Northeastern states.

Even though the Rohingya people have gone through a lot, their undeterred spirit and constant hope for normalcy is endearing. People visiting them brings a positive change in their lives. Their undying optimism towards a better future is brought out in its true form through their willingness to work hard and stay honest. Amidst all the publicity and attention, good as well as bad, the Rohingya refugees reflect the true spirit of humanity. They serve an example to all, that no matter what, life always wins when pitted against death.