By Syed Junaid Hashmi
JAMMU: From using brute force to destroying property worth lakhs of rupees, Jammu Development Authority’s (JDA) anti-encroachment drives have seen Muslims, especially belonging to impoverished Gujjar community, being selectively targeted across Jammu district.
This is the backdrop of the latest drive in Sarore area of Samba district where a Muslim youngster was killed and several others including some differently-abled persons were injured.
Police resorted to firing when people resisted an eviction drive that JDA claims was purely carried out on the request of district administration of Samba.
“They requested us to come and demarcate the land which they said belonged to the government. We had simply gone to demarcate the land and nothing else,” JDA Vice Chairman Mubarak Singh, told Kashmir Reader.
Gujjars in Sarore allege that police was joined by locals in inflicting atrocities on them.
Prior to this, a similar eviction drive was carried out in Gujjar Basti colony of Nikki Tawi area by administration and police on December 31, 2015. More than 12 residential houses were brought down using bulldozers, JCBs and trucks.
The makeshift sheds, or “Kullas” as they are called, were burnt down and those living in these structures were first beaten mercilessly and then either taken to police station or forced to flee.
The beleaguered Gujjars allege that their belongings were looted by the locals who accompanied the police and the district administration. They are now living in Belicharana with their relatives and in some cases in temporary sheds provided by locals.
There is a pattern in the atrocities on a particular community. A few kilometers from Nikki Tawi officials of JDA accompanied by Police had swooped on another Gujjar dwelling in Gole Gujral area of Jammu city on May 11, 2014. The victims alleged that brute force was used to evict Gujjars who had been living there for the past 30 years.
Their Kullas was burnt and they were forced to flee. Gujjars says they had been coming to this area, which is now known as Gole Gujral, with their livestock for the past 30 years, purely because river Tawi is nearby.
The trouble started when they constructed a Mosque in the area for offering prayers on vacant land, which the JDA later claimed belonged to it. Gujjars maintain that construction of mosque became the main provocation for their eviction.
They said that some people affiliated with right wing Hindu groups would often harass and intimidate them.
“They (right wing activists) would often threaten us of consequences but we were taken aback when JDA officials along-with police came and without any provocation used brute force on us. Use of force is aimed at frightening us so that we vacate the land where they feel we would construct concrete structures in the near future,” said a Gujjar youth, requesting anonymity for the fear of being persecuted by the administration and police.
Prior to May 11, 2014, JDA on January 31, 2013 used 3 JCBs, several bulldozers and demolished 250 shacks and around 20 concrete houses in Irshadabad area of Sidhra, another Muslim dominated locality.
As many as 250 families were rendered shelter-less in this drive. A majority of the Muslim families, who have constructed their houses in Sidhra area are from Billawar, Poonch, Ramban, Doda, Kishtwar, Anantnag, Ganderbal, Shopian and other parts of Kashmir valley.
In other eviction drives carried out on January 30, 2013, the targets again were Muslims. At least 250 families of Doda, Kishtwar, Rajouri and Poonch districts were rendered homeless following “anti encroachment drive” launched by police and Irrigation & Flood Control department along Tawi area from Sidhra bridge to Bahu Fort.
The irrigation department had targeted only the stretch inhabited by Muslims along the vast Tawi bank for the removal of encroachments.
These eviction drives are apart from the ones carried out by Forest Department in various parts of Jammu region.
Records bear testimony to the fact that the target areas have always been Muslim dominated localities. Former forest minister Bali Bhagat had initiated a process of demarcation of land which he claimed belonged to the forest department in Sunjwan, Bathindi, Raika and Sidhra areas of Jammu districts, all Muslim dominated.
He had even said that his department would conduct anti-encroachment drive in the second phase in Roop Nagar, Bajalta, Nagrota, Janipur, Choki Chora, Sungai and Domail-Jandrah. Though no such drive was conducted in areas dominated by other communities but the department did pay visit to areas largely inhabited by Muslims and made no bones while saying that JCBs would be used to bring down houses of all those who have illegally grabbed forest land.
The department has already carried out several anti-encroachment drives in Sidhra, Sunjawan, Bajalta and Raika areas. All these areas are Muslim dominated. Gujjar leader Jameel Choudhary said that this there is a “design behind all this”.
He said, “Encroachments are all over the state. JDA and other departments fail to see land encroached by other communities but as and when they get a chance they target poor Gujjar families living in “Kullas.”
Choudhary said that government should find out from its sources about the total encroached land in Jammu district.
“They would get to know that more land has been grabbed by high-profile builders and officials than the amount which is with poor Gujjars and that too temporarily,” said Jameel.
The JDA, however, dismissed the allegation that the action against encroachers has been selective. Mubarak Singh said that there is nothing selective about anti-encroachment drives. “We don’t have this kind of thinking. We are making all out efforts to get the land vacated wherever it has been grabbed. We are following High Court directions and nothing else,” said Singh.
Asked whether any notice has been issued to people living illegally on government land, he said, “Definitely, due process of law is followed. We do nothing which is illegal.”
About Sarore, Singh said that the eviction drive had been planned by District Administration.
“We had gone there on the request of district administration and police to demarcate land. Whatever happened is unfortunate. There has to be restrain. If using force becomes necessity, then that has to be reasonable one,” added Singh.
About drive being against Muslims only, Singh said, “It is a myth. We don’t spare anyone.” However, he failed to cite any instance where communities other than Muslims are involved.