Jammu: Three weeks ago, Tahira Begum, 25 a Rohingya refugee along with her husband and two kids, was living a harsh, but acceptable life in a one-room rented Jhuggi (hut) in Karyani Talab area of Narwal Jammu, where like her, hundreds of other Rohingya refugees live thus giving the area a pseudonym of refugee colony.
However, her world came crashing down when in the third week of May, her husband Mohd Rafiq died due to electrocution while fixing the main wire which supplied electricity to the refugee families, thrice a week, living in Jhuggis under the scorching heat. Now, Tahira along with her two kids are living alone with no one around to take care of them, besides the burden of being a refugee and widow on her shoulder.
“We came here in 2012 fleeing persecution in Myanmar. We were living a very difficult life here in huts and for us it is very hard to find work here. My husband was working as a labor, which hardly used to meet our ends. But now after his death, the question of how to earn even that and feed my two kids is haunting me day and night,” says Tahira.
Every Ramadan, Tahira and her deceased husband Rafiq used to fast from dawn to dusk, but this Ramadan she has to fast alone with the uncertainty of earning ‘Suhoor’ and ‘Iftar’.
Over 1,219 Rohingya families comprising 5,107 members are staying as refugees in many settlement colonies in Jammu division of Jammu and Kashmir after fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
Rohingyas, often called the ‘world’s most persecuted minority’, live in temporary Jhuggis (huts) and are majorly concentrated in Karyani Talab Narwal, Bathindi, Channi Rama, Baba Peer, Near Railway, Marathi Mohallah (panama Chowk), Kargil Colony, Rajeev Nagar, Bari Brahmana, Sunjwan, Rahim Nagar, Malik Market, Gool Philli Bhagwati Nagar.
Another widow refugee, Bilkis Jaan, a septuagenarian fled in 2011 and came to India as a refugee along with her neighbors as none from her family survived the massacre. Her Husband had died 10 years ago. In Myanmar, she had some land and cattle which helped her sustain herself but now she has nothing. She begs during the day and sleeps in the neighboring Jhuggis in the night.
“I am an old woman, what work I can do. If it’s the season of nuts then I work in factory where we crack nuts and earn Ra 50-80 a day, otherwise I have to beg on the streets. Since my arrival in this country, my neighbors feed me and I sleep in their Jhuggis,” Bilkis says.
As per rough estimates of Mohammad Younous, a Rohingya elder, there are more than 300 widows refugee women’s living in slums across Jammu. They are in age group of 20 to 90, whose husbands have either died or have deserted them, fleeing to other countries, leaving them behind in a country where they don’t know anyone.
Most of these widows work in walnut factories 8-12 hours a day, cracking shells and removing nuts which hardly fetches them 60-90 rs per day.If the widow is old and no one around to take care of her, she turns herself in to begging. Their children are sometimes as young as six ans also work collecting scraps to meet the ends.
“Here we have to earn by whatever source we can, because it’s not our country. We are living here as refugees. Besides being a refugee, if a women is widow then her case becomes more complicated and her life becomes more tough considering the circumstances of work in Jammu,” says Zohira Begum, who lives with her three kids in a Jhuggi rented in Karyani Talab of Narwal.
“If there is no food in home then definitely children will come out and work; and here they can only earn by collecting scrap,” she adds. Most of the widows, especially the older ones, don’t even own a Jhuggi and spend their nights in neighboring Jhuggis, where they are fed and given place to sleep.
Five years ago, Fatima, 80, fled Myanmar along with her son and took refugee in Jammu. When they arrived, she found everything normal here and although life was hard, it was free from oppression thatthy faced in Myanmar. But almost a year after her arrival, she was thrown out from Jhuggi by her own son with no place to go .
Later, a neighbor helped her in making a small Jhuggi where she is spending her last days of life, but without any one to earn.
“My son lives 3 kms from here in Channi Rama, but he never visits me. These good neighbours feed me. If someday, I feel energy to walk, then I go and beg on roads instead of asking my son to give me money,” says Fatima.
The widows sometimes do get Zakat money or ration help from locals or non government organizations, but the same only lasts Ramadan and afterwards the same uncertainty of earning stays around the year.