Syed Junaid Hashmi
JAMMU: In an interestingly unexpected twist, members of legal cell of BJP who had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court seeking identification and deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis from Jammu were caught unaware when Supreme Court lawyers landed in the courtroom on Monday and pleaded on behalf of refugees for making them party to the case.
They filed an application before the Division Bench, comprising Chief Justice of J&K N Paul Vasnathakumar and Justice Alok Aradhe, pleading that the Rohingyas who are refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) be made party respondents in these proceedings. Both the applicant Advocate Hunar Gupta, who is member of the BJP’s legal cell as well as his lawyer Sr. Advocate Sunil Sethi were taken by surprise.
Sunil Sethi is also the Chief Spokesperson of BJP. The team of young lawyers who are associated with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) demanded on behalf of 23 individuals representing around 7000 Rohingya refugees that they be heard, before an order is passed in the PIL filed by Advocate Hunar Gupta. When the lawyers namely Shah Faisal, Fidel Sebastian and Fazal Abdali entered the court room with the application, hearing was going on in the case with the litigant and his lawyer demanding that an order be passed, directing the state government to evict them from the state land that they have allegedly occupied.
The Rohingyas have pleaded in the application that they are 1600 families living in different clusters across Jammu belonging to the ethnic minority group of Myanmar known as Rohingyas. They have further said that they are living peacefully on privately owned lands, which are owned and rented out by Indian nationals; most of whom are Hindus. They have claimed to be paying rent to these landlords on a timely basis and none of the landlords have ever voiced any complaints or objections about the conduct of their Rohingya tenants.
Refugees have said that they are also subjected to police verification on regular intervals and the last one was done in January 2017 by the local police station. They have further said that the verification is carried out meticulously with photos of the Rohingyas being scrutinized by the Police.
“Information has to be supplied to the police during these verifications about any new members in the clusters and the authorities keep a regular list of the Rohingyas which is kept up to date,” the Rohingyas have said in their application before the Division Bench.
Refugees have maintained that they fled their country of origin i.e. Myanmar (Burma) due to fear of persecution and are not the illegal immigrants as stated by the Petitioner in the Public Interest Litigation while adding that they are having the status of recognized refugees identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR)-India, after undergoing thorough refugee status determination process including numerous interviews regarding their claim of fear of prosecution by UNHCR.
The advocates pleaded before the Division bench that the applicants will get directly affected by this PIL and they might very well stand to lose their lives if the Court directs they be deported back home where Burmese army and religious fanatics would kill them. They further said that the PIL petitioner want the court to pass orders that will destroy the lives of the applicants and unsettle them once again. Given this scenario, the applicants have demanded that should at least be allowed to make their defense.
Lawyers further pleaded that the directions prayed for in the PIL amount to punitive measures and the PIL, barring all appearances, is being pursued against the applicants who are a brutally ravaged and victimized people already. All of this because they fled the inhuman brutality meted out to them in their country of origin. It thus stands to reason that according to the most basic tenets of natural justice, no man should be judged in matters of life and death, in a litigation that resembles a criminal trial without being allowed to present his defense.