NEW DELHI: It is several days since 17-year-old Nurankis, mother of two, has heard from her husband after he left for Agra to look for a job.
Nurul Salam lost his job in Delhi after the Indian government termed Rohingyas — one of the world’s most persecuted minorities — as a “security threat”.
“I have been cooking only rice and potato for the past couple of days. That too, only twice a day. I have about Rs 20 left. We have nothing else,” Nurankis told IANS while sitting in her dark, one-room shack of blue tarpaulin and cardboard at the Shram Vihar slum of south Delhi.
IANS found several cases of Rohingyas being fired from jobs in Delhi, Jammu and Punjab because of their identity, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government asked “state governments to identify and deport the Rohingyas”.
The government’s decision was later challenged in the Supreme Court and its judgement is awaited.
“One day, they (the employer) said ‘there is no work from today for people from Burma’,” Nurankis said about how Salam lost his job at Allana, a Ghazipur meat processing company in east Delhi.
Following this, Salam boarded a bus to Aligarh, about 150 km from Delhi, to look for a job, leaving behind his four-year-old son Ubaib and three-month-old daughter Rubina. “He called from Aligarh and said people were asking for Aadhaar Card for hiring him,” Nurankis said. “I do not know where he is now.”
People who lost their jobs after the government crackdown said it had become difficult to pay rent or even eat and in some cases were forced to relocate, leaving behind what little they owned.
Rohingyas, mostly Muslims, are an ethnic minority from Buddhist majority Myanmar, who have been denied citizenship and have been facing brutality from the Myanmar military.
More than 800,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar in the last five years as a result of violence, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and there are around 21,500 Rohingyas in India.
At a tea shop near Nurankis’ shack, 22-year-old Sayedul Amin remembered the day when Salam, he and around 30 other refugees lost their jobs.
“It was a normal day and we were working when the contractor came and told us that from that day there would be no jobs for people from Burma,” Amin said.
When the refugees asked for a reason, they were told that the government might deport them any time and the company would face problems for employing them.
“I do not know how I’m going to pay this month’s rent,” said Abdul Raheem, 30, one of the refugees fired from the company.
The company laid off between 25 and 40 Rohingya refugees, according to one of Allana’s security guards.
When reached for a comment, an Allana spokesperson said that Rohingyas were contract employees and they were laid off as a “pro-active measure” after the government’s move.
However, he said only seven or eight refugees were fired.
In Punjab, Mohammad Jubair and other Rohingya refugees were asked to leave from work.
Jubair sold his cycle, gas cylinder and parts of his shack and boarded a train to Hyderabad, where he is yet to find a job or build a shack.
In Jammu, Ashik Khurana, a 17-year-old Rohingya refugee, who used to work as a cleaner at the Jammu Tawi Railway Station with about 30 other refugees, said they were asked for Indian identity cards to continue.
After gathering all refugee workers, the in-charge said: “From today all workers from Burma who do not have an Aadhaar Card won’t be allowed to work here.”
Khurana said: “Where will I go for an Aadhaar Card? The UN had told us not to make any Indian ID card. “Most of us left (the job) after that.”
At a Rohingya settlement in Kanchan Kunj of Delhi, Mohammad Saleem, 35, leader of the camp, said: “It (settlement) was like a job market, but now hardly anyone comes here to call us for work.”
“When Modi is talking like this, people would obviously see us differently,” Dil Mohammad, 60, leader of Shram Vihar settlement, said, adding: “It’s better that the government rounds us up here and shoots us.”
(Nikhil M. Babu can be contacted at email@example.com)