Feature: Demolition drive in Muslim Tribe locality sparks protest in Jammu

Rozi holding her two months old baby while sitting on debris of her ransacked house. Photo: Special arrangement

Holding tightly her two months old baby wrapped in a blanket, Rozi Jan is sitting idle on the remnants of her ransacked house in the Upper Paloura area of Roop Nagar in Jammu.

Rozi, who is yet to recover after caesarean delivery, is among the several members of the Gujjar Bakerwal tribe whose residential house has been flattened by the Jammu Development Authority during a “selective” demolition drive on Tuesday.

“They have bulldozed our houses in harsh winter days and ransacked our goods and property. Where will we go? How will I protect my children from biting cold? Where will I hide them? I am clueless. I am distressed,” she said while talking to Maktoob.

On 11 January, the Jammu Development Authority demolished around 9 residential houses and several other structures sheltering cattle during an eviction drive in a tribal area of Jammu.

“We were quite asleep when we received a call at 7:30 am from police station informing us that they are going to carry out a demolition drive in the locality. To stop the move, the elders and some youths rushed to the police station with a stay order. However, on reaching there, they [villagers] were kept hostage inside the police station,” Yasir Hussain Chaudhary, a local resident alleged.

“In the meantime, the authorities of the JDA, police and other officials came along with heavy machinery and started vandalising our houses without even providing a safe passage to the inmates,” he added.

“At around 8 am in the morning, I was breastfeeding my two-month-old baby — Sofiyan — when an unusual buzzing sound struck my eardrums. On moving outside hurriedly what I saw was around seven JCB machines and a group of men guarded by police making their way towards our houses,” Rozi said.

“they attacked our houses without thinking kids and patients might be sleeping inside.

They [officials] didn’t even provide us time to ensure our belongings are safely evacuated. I begged before them not to demolish my house. I am a patient and have small kids. Where will I go? Where will I take them in harsh winter? But to no avail, they didn’t listen to me”.

“We were screaming watching our houses being flattened in a jiffy. What else we could have done? They were merciless. They were heartless,” she lamented.

“Our washrooms were ransacked. Water tanks were damaged. Walls, bricks, trucks, clothes, other belongings, even tin sheets, and everything is littered on the ground,” she continued.

Tufail Hussain Chaudhary, a local resident said that dozens of armed men and officers from civil administration laid a siege in the locality citing we have raised construction on government land.

“They [officials] gathered all men and womenfolk and snatched mobile phones apparently to avoid the publicity of the demolition on social media,” Hussain said.

After snatching mobile phones, he said, they started demolition of houses till around 1 pm. “During this time they vandalised all structures and spared none,” he added.

The locals have accused the administration of carrying out selective demolition drives against the poor tribal communities.

“Why isn’t JDA acting against the influential people who have huge government land in possession and acting tough against us despite having our own land,” they questioned.

Another local resident, Yasir Hussain said, they were so merciless that Abdul Aziz an 80-year old cancer patient pleaded with them but they didn’t listen to him at all.

Aziz had a narrow escape when he sprayed kerosene oil on him and attempted to set himself on fire.

“During the drive, Aziz’s daughters’ resisted authorities but they were dragged and their house too was bulldozed. After seeing all this happing in Infront of his eyes, he [Aziz] couldn’t tolerate all this ordeal and attempted suicide but was later stopped by the neighbours,” Yasir told Maktoob.

He said that the villagers of this Gujjar and Bakerwal locality are living here for the last six decades. “They are poor. Making their livelihood by selling milk and other dairy products”.

“Besides Aziz’s house, 8 more residential houses housing 13 families, comprising of around 70 family members were flattened,” Tufail said adding they have been left at God’s mercy.

“What sort of injustice is this? Milk feeding babies, patients, women and old people none has been spared by the merciless authorities,” he rued.

Officials deny allegations

In a statement issued subsequently, the JDA said that 17 pucca and Kacha structures raised upon the land were demolished and removed.

“Jammu Development Authority today retrieved its 41 Kanal Prime land here in Roop Nagar. Anti-encroachment drive was jointly launched by the District Administration, Police & JDA at Sector-06 Roop Nagar, Tehsil Jammu North and the encroached land falling under khasra No. 1193 and 1206 was retrieved during 5 hours long anti-encroachment drive (sic),” the handout states.

Indefinite protests

Following the eviction, the tribal families gathered and staged protests against what they call “selective” demolition seeking ownership rights and compensation for the affected families.

Tufail told Maktoob that scores of political leaders have participated in the protests, however, he alleged that 6 days after eviction no official from the administration bothered to visit us.

“We will protest for an indefinite period till the government won’t accept our demands,” Tufail added.

The demolition drive in the Tribal community has triggered a massive outrage across J&K, with former CM Mehbooba Mufti saying, “J&K admin’s selective demolition of houses in Jammu & rendering tribals homeless is yet another method to vent their hatred by targeting minorities.”

She added that these “communal” policy decisions are sanctioned at the top and that the people need to stand up against such “atrocities”.

While slamming the demolition drive, Guftar Choudhury, political activist and chief spokesman of Jammu and Kashmir Gujjar-Bakerwal Youth Conference tweeted, “Selective Eviction in Jammu. What happened with illegal land occupied by BJP Leader Nirmal Singh. Using power against poor tribals is very easy for JDA. Show your power against land grabbers”.

Saima Chaudhary, a young activist, said that Gujjars and Bakerwals are being harassed in J&K in the name of eviction drives after the dilution of Article 370.