Sarore Sorrow

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The morning police raid on Gujjar hutments in Samba is not an isolated incident. Syed Asma talks to the community living under the fear of extremism in a highly politicised belt

A woman standing near her destroyed hutment. Pic: Omar Asif

A woman standing near her destroyed hutment.
Pic: Omar Asif

On February 21, 2016, a small Gujjar populated hutment in Sarore near Bari Bramhana Bridge, were shaken by cries of wailing women, children, and smouldering roofs. It was the second raid of the day.

The first one happened in the wee hours of the morning when J&K police along with cops from Himachal raided the hutment, housing some 30 odd Gujjar families, to nab a wanted dacoit.  After searching for hours police failed to find the wanted man. During the search operation, some police men and youngsters from Gujjar community engaged in a tiff. The spat turned violent leaving a number of policemen and Gujjar’s injured. “We were expecting reaction from the police but not as violent,” says an elderly Gujjar who refused to give his name.

Disturbed by the news of police raid on Sarore, Mohammed Yaqoob, 25, set out on foot from nearby Vijaypur – another Gujjar hutment in Hindu majority Samba district – to check on his family. Yakoob’s wife and his two sons (10 and 8 years old) and daughter (3), were at their maternal home in Sarore.

Yakoob reached Sarore in the morning, just before the second raid. “Everything was normal. We were busy feeding our cattle,” says the elderly Gujjar.

All of a sudden, a large contingent of police, accompanied by a few civilians, raided the Sarore hutment. “The men in civvies with police were RSS men,” says Hamid, one of the survivors.

Without warning, both policemen and RSS goons started setting our hutments on fire and beating whosoever came into their way including women and children, says Hamid.

When youngsters from Gujjar community tried to stop them, police opened fire killing Yaqoob and injuring many others including a 15-year-old Farhan Ali. “Farhan is battling for his life right now,” informs Hamid.

There might be a few miscreants in the community, says Bashir, as is case with every other community, but does that give police right to bring RSS goons along and kill our men?

When the police and RSS men left, 20 out of 30 hutments were turned into ashes.

When contacted, DC Samba, Sheetal Nanda and Mubarak Singh, Vice Chairman, Jammu Development Authority (JDA), refused to share information regarding Sarore incident.

“Killing is an incident which happens. We have offered a compensation and an enquiry has been ordered with a deadline of 15 days. Let’s see what comes out,” says Nanda.

While JDA’s Singh termed the incident as, “simple law and order problem which has nothing to with JDA.”

The Gujjar community is living in the area since 1960s, says Nizamud-din Khatana, former PDP MLC. The hutment was spread over an area of 60 kanals till 1971. That year refugees from West Pakistan arrived and were settled in Sarore as well. “To avoid clashes between Gujjars and West Pakistani refugees, government divided the land equally in 1977,” says Khatana. “So it was government’s decision to settle Gujjars in Surore.”

Mian Altaf, former NC Minister and MLA, remembers no such controversy ever arising regarding Gujjar’s living in Surore. “There was no issue of eviction until recently,” says Altaf, “And even if they wanted to evict them from Surore, JDA should have shot them notices, and given them time as per law. But killing and setting their huts on fire is not justified.”

But the Sarore incident is not an isolated one, there were numerous incidents where minority Muslims from Jammu belt were harassed by RSS and BJP men, alleges Hamid.

“It is done under the patronage of former BJP MLA Chandra Prakash Ganga,” alleges Talib Hussain, a Gujjar and a rights activist of his community.

Before 2014 assembly elections, Hussain alleges that Ganga had warned Muslims of Sarore and Vijaypur of bitter consequences once he is elected.

“Once I am elected, I assure my men (RSS) that Muslims in Sarore and Vijapur will be evicted, come what may,” Hussain remembers Ganga saying before the elections.

Interestingly Sarore killing is the fifth such incident since PDP-BJP collation came to power in J&K. The first one was when RSS men beat Gujjar labourers in Manohar Gopala, and Paramandal while working at a stone crusher.

Recently RSS men forcefully tried to convert an ancient graveyard in Bassi into an Akhada.

In Raya Moud, RSS men created ruckus when a dead animal was found in the area. They alleged Gujjar’s of killing a cow. Local administration had to order an enquiry when RSS men started hunting Gujjar’s. The situation cooled only after it was proved that the animal was not a cow.

Interestingly, Ashiq Hussain Khan, a Gujjar leader representing PDP blames “provocative” statements of Kashmir Muslims for their plight. “We (Gujjar’s) have no representation in the state government, that is why we are facing the wrath of Hindu majority,” says Khan.

Khan feels there should be balance in administration to safeguard interests and assets of the minorities in Hindu dominated Jammu belt. “There should be one member from every community at least in such communally sensitive areas,” feels Khan.

Meanwhile Yaqoob’s orphans are struggling to survive without a roof over their heads.

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