Nuh, India – Abdul Jabbar, a Rohingya refugee living in a camp 80km (50 miles) from New Delhi, went to a nearby store earlier this month to find out what was keeping his 14-year-old son, who had left hours earlier to buy powdered pepper for that night’s meal.
When he arrived, bystanders told Abdul Jabbar that police had apprehended his son while he connected to the shop’s WiFi to play games on his phone.
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Abdul Jabbar, who fled Myanmar in 2014 to live in one of two Rohingya refugee camps in Nuh, went to the nearest police station only to be told that his son wasn’t there.
After three days of searching, Abdul Jabbar discovered that his son, who claimed police had beaten him, had been sent to a juvenile correctional facility on suspicion of being involved in setting a police station on fire when violent clashes broke out in Nuh last month.
“People from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have advised us to not leave the camp to avoid any police action. How can we go out for riots? The only time we go out is to get groceries from a nearby store,” he said, denying the charges against his son.
Days of sectarian clashes erupted on July 31, killing six men, including a Muslim leader in Gurugram and two police officers in neighbouring Nuh, the only Muslim-majority district in Haryana.
The violence started during a procession by a prominent Hindu right-wing military organisation, Bajrang Dal, and its parent organisation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), along with other similar groups.
In the aftermath of the clashes, in Nuh and surrounding violence-affected areas, at least 150 people have been arrested, and more than 1200 properties, mostly belonging to Muslims, have been bulldozed by Haryana’s right-wing government of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The atmosphere of fear is such that, to evade being apprehended by the police, we hide in the fields and forests nearby during the night,” Abdul Jabbar told Al Jazeera. “There is no one to advocate for us in case the police detain any of us.”
‘I don’t know his whereabouts’
Along with Abdul Jabbar’s son, three other Rohingya Muslims in Nuh were apprehended by the police, including a 17-year-old who had accompanied Abdul Jabbar’s son to the shop.
The father of the 17-year-old searched for his son for two days before learning that he had been sent to a juvenile correctional facility on the same charges as Abdul Jabbar’s son.
At another refugee camp in Nuh, 21-year-old Saifullah, who makes and repairs shanties, was picked up by police on August 4, according to his wife.
Shiri Jahan told Al Jazeera that she doesn’t know where her husband is or why he was arrested.
“I am telling my children that their father has gone to work and will come back in a few days,” she said. “However, I don’t know his whereabouts and the charges on which he has been taken.”
At the religious school in that camp, Imam Abul Kalam said that fear of arrest is constant.
“I am the only religious figure of the camp, and I fear that if anything unfortunate happens in the camp, I’ll be the first to be held accountable by the police,” he said before declining to comment further.
Public Relations Officer of Nuh police Krishna Kumar declined to comment on the arrests and multiple requests for comment from officials went unanswered.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Haryana has demolished hundreds of homes, shops and shanties in Nuh.
In recent years, several rights groups have condemned the BJP for making the bulldozing of properties owned by mainly Muslim suspects in cases of violence – and even political dissenters – a common practice in the states governed by the right-wing party.
On August 7, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered a halt to four days of bulldozing of properties in the Nuh district and questioned the motives of those involved.
“The issue also arises whether the buildings belonging to a particular community are being brought down under the guise of law and order problem and an exercise of ethnic cleansing are being conducted by the state.”
As of December 2022, there were over 21 thousand Rohingya Muslim refugees living in India, according to the (UNHRC).
The actions of the BJP and the demonisation of the Rohingya by mainstream media in India have shaken the community.
On August 4, Mehboob Rahman, a 21-year-old employee with Development and Justice Initiative, a charitable trust that works with urban poor and migrant workers, was also picked up by the police.
As with the other arrests, His father, Mohammad Alam, 44, had to search for two days to find out what had become of his son and claimed that he two was assaulted while in custody.
“The police didn’t allow me to talk to my son. He saw me and started crying. He was in a very bad physical state,” said Alam, who alleged that his son had been physically assaulted while in custody.
On July 24th, the Anti-Terror Squad arrested 55 men, 14 women and five children living in six districts of Haryana’s neighbouring Uttar Pradesh province, 40 of whom lived in Mathura.
A refugee there, who requested anonymity, said the news of those arrests had filled their community “with fear”.
“How could we even consider engaging in any illegal activities in this situation? We are not even able to go out for essential commodities and work,” they said.
“We fled from ethnic cleansing in [Myanmar], yet we are still living in fear.”