Faceless victims of militancy through Pir Panjal

For several years Bansi Lal, 52, has been tending the Mata Sharika temple in Jammu city – a replica of Jagdamba Sharika Bhagwati on top of Hari Parbat hill next to Dal Lake in Srinagar city, considered the abode of the goddess.

The temple was built by Kashmiri pundits who made the city of temples their second home after being driven out of the valley in the early 1990s when a Pakistani-backed armed insurgency began sweeping the valley.

Originally a resident of Chhatroo village in Kishtwar, Jammu province, Bansi abandoned his home and mountain farms and fled to Jammu city in 2005. This was when the region was infested with trigger-happy terrorists – local and foreign – who selectively killed members of its community, in addition to any suspected collaborators. Massacres were the order of the day.

Bansi Lal I Credit: Ashutosh Sharma/Outlook

While his family has been housed in the temple premises, his management pays him a monthly fee of Rs 5,000. “In all these years, I have never received any aid from the government that it gives to Kashmiri migrants” , Bansi tells Outlook, recounting how, despite financial constraints, he ensured the higher education of his four children, including three daughters.

Now he is worried about their job. But the story of his struggle is no different from that of the thousands of faceless, internally displaced migrants impacted by militancy in Jammu province, who remain out of sight of the government and the media.

They come from remote and almost inaccessible villages in the Pir Panjal range. In many cases, even news of massacres in their respective villages – as happened in the Prankote area of ​​Reasi district, where 28 people were axed to death on the night of April 17, 1998 – n wouldn’t reach the authorities until after 24 hours.

Justice for Trial – an Ahmedabad-based NGO which included former Governor of Himachal Pradesh VS Kokje and former Rajasthan Government Additional General Counsel GS Gill – highlighted their predicament in the media in 2010. Their report stated that Migrants from Jammu, scattered all over the hilly areas, were forced to live in inhumane conditions.

For more than seven years, these migrants have staged a peaceful protest sit-in outside the office of the Divisional Commissioner in Mubarak Mandi. Without any success, they had to call off their protest in 2011 after the office moved to a new building in Rail Head Jammu.

Significantly, J&K Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (M) has only 979 registered migrant families from the hilly areas of Doda, Ramban, Kishtwar, Reasi, Udhampur, Rajouri and Poonch districts all under Jammu. These families were displaced between 1998 and 2004, according to the Commission’s website. “The majority are stationed at NHPC Colony Talwara in Reasi, or Panthal, Udhampur and Ramban, with only a few transferred to Jammu district.”

NHPC Colony Talwara is located near the right bank of the mighty Chenab which flows along the northern fringe of Reasi town. A cluster of damp, dark and cramped sheds, the settlement is home to 2,221 Hindu and Muslim families who fled terrorist attacks in different areas of Jammu region.

With tar-felt cement sheet roofs covered in tattered tarps and, in some cases, tin sheets, these structures are in ruins, resembling long-disfigured and abandoned lockers. Previously, this camp housed workers who worked for the construction of the Salal hydroelectric power station in Chenab in 1978.

On several occasions, the NHPC has attempted to dismantle the settlement after declaring it unsafe and unauthorized. While the migrants have obtained a stay order from the court, residents of the camp complain that they have been deprived of the benefits of government welfare programs.

Following a Supreme Court judgment in 2016, the J&K government registered 642 of the families and started providing them with monthly assistance of Rs 13,000 and free food and rations, just like they do for Pandits in valley, according to Jagdev Singh, chairman of the Talwara Migrant Action Committee. “But the remaining 1,800 families were left to their own devices,” Singh says.

Most campers – including those who are registered – do manual or menial labor for food. Speaking of the cramped conditions in the camp and the harrowing problems posed by extreme poverty, campers keep coming back to the contented life of their home villages where they had adequate farmland, livestock and abundant natural resources to live happily.

But when Talwara migrants speak of past incidents filled with vivid images of violence and loss of life and property, official apathy dominates their list of grievances. They blame the government for their current condition. The bloodstained memories still weigh like nightmares in their hearts and minds.

Octogenarian Krishna Devi and his family arrived at the camp from a remote mountain hamlet, Kot Charwal in Rajouri district, after terrorists burned to death 15 Muslim herders in three houses in February 2001. The charred bodies included seven children , the youngest being only four years old.

“This carnage was a warning to the villagers who opposed it,” she recalls, saying that among those killed were some armed members of the village defense group.

Krishna Devi
Krishna Devi I Credit: Ashutosh Sharma/Outlook

By the mid-1990s, the government had decided to supply arms to residents of militancy-infested areas and formed village defense committees. Lately, some J&K BJP leaders have insisted on reviving these committees to strengthen the security network.

While security forces claim a dramatic drop in militancy, migrants refuse to return home. The reasons go beyond security concerns. “We don’t have money to rebuild houses, buy cattle and make long-abandoned land suitable for cultivation again,” says Jagdev Singh. “If we go back, we’ll have to start all over again.”

“Their reintegration into life in the country remains a real challenge for the government,” said Nishikant Khajuria, a veteran journalist based in Jammu. Insisting on a sustainable rehabilitation policy for the long-suffering Jammu migrants, Nishikant adds, “Being educationally poor, they could never articulate their problems and highlight their problems as the Kashmiri pundits do to attract national and international attention. Under the shadow of the Kashmir conflict, they have been completely ignored.

Words of assurance from successive governments have proved insufficient to contain their sense of horror and loss. “Migrants from Jammu and Kashmir are both victims of the same circumstances. And yet the government has discriminated against us, that too against the Supreme Court guidelines,” says Jagdev Singh, decrying the strange dichotomy.

Recently, Bhim Singh, Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party and Chief Advocate of the Supreme Court, urged Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha that all migrants from Jammu be treated equally with migrants from Kashmir. , in accordance with the Supreme Court’s instructions to the Union and UT governments.

In his written representation, Bhim, who had represented Jammu migrants in the Supreme Court, also demanded construction of settlements for Jammu migrants, employment schemes and clearance of arrears due from 1998 to 2021 on a equal footing with Kashmiri migrants, in addition to registering bifurcated and left-wing migrants. – excluding families.

Belicharana, which sits on the left bank of the Tawi River – a slow-moving waterway that runs through the city of Jammu – once had a cluster of makeshift homes of non-Kashmirian internally displaced migrants. While many families have disappeared over the years, some have built their permanent homes on the site.

Pyara Singh in her shop
Pyara Singh in her shop I Credit: Ashutosh Sharma/Outlook

Pyara Singh, 67, who runs a small shop here, had also fled Kishtwar after terrorists shot dead 16 civilians in her village, Thakrai, and a nearby village of Sarwan, on July 28, 1998.

Summing up the feelings of many IDPs affected by militancy in Jammu region, he comments, “I didn’t ask for anything, nor did the government help me in any way.

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