Kashmir: Rohingya refugee women lured by trafficking gangs

Rohingya women are increasingly being targeted by human traffickers with promises of a better life in Kashmir.

The Rohingya are a mostly Muslim minority from Myanmar's Rakhine state (Photo: DW)
The Rohingya are a mostly Muslim minority from Myanmar's Rakhine state (Photo: DW)


Mujeeba (name changed) is a Rohingya woman living in a small village in India-administered Kashmir's Anantnag district. A decade ago, when she was 20 years old, she was trafficked from an overcrowded refugee camp in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar.  

She said traffickers lured her with the promise of a better life in Kashmir and marriage to a "well-settled man."

"I was full of dreams and energy, now I am struggling with mental health problems," she said, adding that her life turned upside down.

The traffickers made Mujeeba embark on an arduous journey on both road and rail from the refugee camp in Bangladesh to a small Kashmiri village. It took over a week for her to reach Kashmir, she said.

"During the journey, I was harassed, abused and closely watched. Along with me, there were three other girls who faced the same experiences," she told DW, adding: "Those things still haunt me at night."

'I face discrimination and abuse'

After arriving in Kashmir, the traffickers sold Mujeeba for about $1,000 (€940) to a laborer who was 13 years older than her and prone to severe aggression. She was then married off to him. 

"For a week, I was kept at the home of the person who brought me to Kashmir. Then a man dressed in new clothes arrived with his parents and I was married off to him in the same house."

Mujeeba said she was very scared at the time. "I did not understand anything. I had no other option but to obey," she said.

Mujeeba has since had to struggle even for her basic needs. "I have had no contact with my family since then. I feel alone here without no one to grieve me even if I die."

"I face discrimination and abuse. My husband gets very aggressive and shouts at me for even small things," she said, adding that her in-laws were also unwelcoming and abusive.

Many other cases of human trafficking

Mujeeba's is not an isolated case.

Three other Rohingya women shared with DW similar accounts about how they were trafficked to Kashmir and ended up in unwanted marriages. They asked not to be named for fear of backlash from the local community as well as authorities, as the Indian government considers them illegal immigrants.

At present, there are over 40,000 Rohingya living in India, nearly 6,000 of them in camps in Jammu.

For the past five years, the Indian government has been trying to deport the Rohingya people.

New Delhi has described them as a security threat, accusing them of having links to Muslim extremist groups.

Over 200 Rohingya people are being held in different detention centers across India, according to media reports.

India's Home Ministry has maintained that "illegal foreigners" would be kept in a detention center until they are deported to Myanmar. 

A senior police official in Kashmir told DW that human traffickers continue to lure Rohingya women by promising them a better life.

"The women are often married off to older men or those who are divorced or widowed," said the officer, who asked not to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The official said that the human trafficking is continuing despite their crackdown.

"There is a lot of money involved in these trafficking rackets. The network is big."

Rohingya women face 'multiple layers of vulnerability'

The Rohingya are a mostly Muslim minority from Myanmar's Rakhine state. They have faced decades of persecution and violence in the Southeast Asian nation.

About 730,000 fled the Buddhist-majority country to Bangladesh following a 2017 clampdown by the Myanmar military, joining others from previous waves of displacement.

Many of them now live in bamboo and tarpaulin huts in overcrowded settlements in Cox's Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh.

Tarushikha Sarvesh, an assistant professor at the Aligarh Muslim University's Department of Women's Studies, told DW that the Rohingya are among the world's most persecuted refugee population.

"This in itself is telling of their vulnerability to exploitation and if you look through the lens of gender dynamics, the condition of Rohingya women is particularly precarious," he said.

"Rohingya women refugees bear the extra burden of not just being refugees but also women who belong to ethnic minority communities," Sarvesh added.

"In the case of Rohingya women, multiple layers of vulnerability make them easy targets."

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

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