New Delhi, India – Police and civilian authorities in the Indian capital have demolished a makeshift mosque in a Rohingya camp, say refugees, weeks after a massive fire engulfed the establishment.
The mosque, composed of sheets of canvas and bamboo sticks, was bulldozed around 7am local time (01:30 GMT) on Thursday, in the camp located in the Madanpur Khader area of New Delhi in the south of the city, bordering in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Nearly 300 refugees, most of whom are fleeing brutal military repression in Myanmar, close to the Buddhist majority, have told Al Jazeera that the structure has been demolished despite their appeals to authorities not to do so.
Muslim-majority Rohingya say they have been left without a place to worship.
“The retreat began an hour after Fajr prayers in the mosque,” he told Al Jazeera Mohammad, 33, who wanted to be identified with his name only for fear of reprisals.
“First they destroyed the toilets and toilets, they eradicated a manual water pump and then they demolished the mosque – all in 10 minutes.”
He said that when the refugees tried to protest, officials said they were “illegal immigrants” living in the camp “invading the land”.
“I told them this is our place of worship but they said we talk a lot,” Mohammad said.
“For us, a mosque is like the Hindus have temples. What they did is all wrong, but we are powerless. “
Obaidullah, a young Rohingya boy, said he felt angry and that his eyes lit up seeing the demolition of the mosque but “there was nothing he could do to stop it”.
A police official at the nearby Kalindi Kunj police station told Al Jazeera that the demolished structure was not a mosque, but only a collapsed hut. He declined to answer further questions.
Pravir Singh, the district magistrate of the area, told Al Jazeera that he was unaware of the demolition of the mosque, adding that he was not competent to give an official statement on the matter.
On June 13 last month, the camp, which houses more than 50 refugee families living in furious shelters, was destroyed in a massive blaze – the second time the camp has been reduced to ashes since 2018.
A small part of the mosque, located at the entrance of the camp, was damaged in the fire, which forced refugees to live in tents provided by local foremen and activists.
Activist Aasif Mujataba, whose Miles to Smile group is helping the Rohingya and collaborating with the government in their rehabilitation, said officials said the camp, including the mosque, was on invaded land.
That’s how the mosque was thrown to the ground. A clear inhuman act. We need to treat guests like gods, but that is the reality. We are Hippocrates and Islamophobes.
Such an act without shame.#rohingya #rohingyacrisis
– Aasif Mujtaba (@MujtabaAasif) July 22, 2021
Shamsheeda Khatoon, a 27-year-old Rohingya woman, said the demolition of the mosque was “well planned”. She said Wednesday officials had set up tents on the road outside the camp.
“Refugees living in tents located in the part of the camp that falls in the state of Uttar Pradesh have been asked to move into tents on the streets. Earlier this morning, they demolished the toilets and supply pipes. water and the mosque, ”he said.
“They are not allowed to take even copies of the Qur’an and other religious books.”
Khatoon said the demolition of the toilets and water pumps has raised concerns about sanitation among women in the countryside. “We don’t now have a place to defecate, bathe or wash clothes.”
An estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees, some believed to be undocumented, live in narrow camps in Indian cities, including Jammu, Hyderabad and Nuh in Haryana state.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has provided some of them with refugee cards, which help them access basic services and are supposed to protect them from police action.
More than 750,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 after the Myanmar army launched a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya, which the UN said was being conducted with a “genocidal intent”.
Bangladesh now holds more than a million Rohingya in narrow, squalid camps along its border with Myanmar. A large number of them have also taken refuge in neighboring Asian countries, including India and Malaysia.
“The Rohingya are living a hard life in India where they are also facing hatred and violence from Hindu right-wing groups,” said Mujtaba, the activist.
“First they lost their huts in the fire and now their mosque and bathrooms have been destroyed. This is a flagrant violation of the human religious rights of refugees. “
Ali Johar, a militant of the Rohingya community in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that “refugees are also human and the right to religion is a fundamental right in India.”
“Demolishing their mosque in this way is harmful, to say the least,” he said. “The government should follow a compassionate approach towards Rohingya so that we do not have to rebuild our lives over and over again.”