Saif Ali owned two residential houses in Jammu before they were demolished by bulldozers on January 11. The 80-year-old tribal is now homeless, living under the open sky for the last four months.
Saif Ali’s family is among over a dozen Gujjar and Bakarwal families in the Roop Nagar neighbourhood whose houses were bulldozed by the Jammu Development Authority (JDA) after they were declared as encroachers.
Since then, the tribal families are on a sit-in protest. And now it’s a sombre Eid for the tribals – the first major festival after the demolition of their homes.
“We have been living here since even before 1947 and we have the revenue records with us since 1978. No one except us were targeted,” said Saif Ali.
The land where tribals had built their homes is actually state land. Under J&K Roshni Act (now scrapped), Saif Ali has even paid Rs 6.75 lakh to the government for regularisation of the land in 2008.
But when the JDA and police came with bulldozers for demolition, Saif Ali says, they didn’t even bother to see the documents.
“When I tried to show them documents, including treasury receipts, they refused to see them. The police instead detained me in police station till the time demolition was carried out” said Mr Ali.
This was first major drive to bulldoze residential houses in Jammu before recent demolition drives in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. The Jammu development authority says the demolition drive was carried out against encroachers but also admits that the tribals were living there since a long time.
“We demolished illegal homes but we have not removed tribals from the land. We are trying to find an amicable solution,” said Pankaj Magotra, Vice Chairman, Jammu Development Authority.
Saif Ali’s brother, Abdul Aziz, who has witnessed horrors of the partition, say they didn’t even face such a dispossession in 1947. The octogenarian tried to die by suicide after his home was demolished.
“We didn’t face such a situation even in 1947. We are feeling helpless. No one listens to us. We are here for the last four months,” said Abdul Aziz.
Now homeless, Bakarwals says it’s not just their families and children but also their livestock that is badly suffering after the demolition drive.
In the Roop Nagar neighbourhood, where demolition drive was carried out, the lawyer of tribals say JCBs were selectively used and powerful people, including politicians, who have built swanky homes at the place were not touched.
“One treatment is given to a particular section and other treatment is given to Saif Ali. This is all selective. They have been picked up for hostile discrimination because they are poor nomads” said Sheikh Shakeel, Lawyer J&K High Court.