‘Injustice, selective evictions’: Jammu admin demolishes houses of Gujjar-Bakarwals

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Politicians and activists accuse authorities in Jammu and Kashmir of harassing the Gujjar Bakerwal community members because of their identity after the Jammu Development Authority (JDA) demolished several houses during an “eviction drive”.

The JDA on Tuesday claimed that it has retrieved prime land worth crores of rupees from “encroachers” in the Roopnagar area of the Jammu district that has left at least 17 families without shelter in the chilling winter.

“During the drive, 17 structures raised upon the JDA land were also demolished. Around 75 per cent of the retrieved land was fenced by the JDA engineering team on the spot,” said JDA.

Residents of the RoopNagar area accuse authorities of leaving them homeless and vandalising household items including water tanks.

“We have been living here [Roopnagar] for the last 60 to 70 years. They [authorities] came and razed our houses, destroyed cattle sheds, broke water tanks” said Nazir Ahmad who identified himself as head of the village.

He said, “we were not given any notice before the demolition. We are living in makeshift huts in the same area.”

In a video viral on social media residents of the area are seen crying and pleading with authorities not to demolish their houses.

“What is happening with me? What kind of injustice is being done to us. Where will my children go? We have been here for 60 years and who will shelter us now. We are telling you [authorities] to take the entire land but do not destroy our house. We are earning our livelihood by doing labour,” an old aged woman was heard saying in a video.

Chowdhary Zulfkar Ali, a former minister belonging to the Gujjar community, asked authorities to provide shelter to the homeless people. He said in a tweet, “Whatever is happening is unacceptable and the state is duty-bound to provide shelter”.

The “anti-encroachment” drive was jointly launched by the district administration, police and JDA as they pressed men and machinery into the demolition in Roopnagar in the Jammu city on Tuesday.

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) Mehbooba Mufti while quoting the video on Twitter targeted authorities for what she called a selective demolition and said that it was targeting minorities.

She said, “J&K admin’s selective demolition of houses in Jammu & rendering tribals homeless is yet another method to vent their hatred by targeting minorities. Seemingly these communal policy decisions are sanctioned at the top. People need to stand up against such atrocities.” (sic)

In the past several years JDA has ‘evicted’ several hundred families from “government land” in the Jammu city, the majority of whom belong to the Gujjar Bakerwal community.

In 2017, the Jammu Development Authority (JDA) evicted at least 54 families belonging to the Gujjar and Bakarwal communities in the Sidhra area of the city.

In January last year inhabitants of the Sunjwan and Bhatindi areas of Jammu city held a protest demonstration against the government authorities after an anti-encroachment drive was started.

Jammu Kashmir Gujjar Bakerwal Youth Welfare Conference President Zahid Parwaz Choudhary also called out the recent demolition drive as ‘selective’ and an attempt to target Gujjar Bakarwals.

Choudhary said that carrying out a “selective” demolition drive against Gujjar Bakarwals shows how much concerned the government was about their development. “People have been left homeless. Where will they go?” he asked.

Similarly, former Minister of Agriculture in the erstwhile state of J-K, Ghulam Hassan Mir said, “instead of rehabilitation people have been deprived of their houses”. He appealed to Lieutenant Governor of J-K Manoj Sinha to take cognisance of the matter.

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