Rohingyas: Abandoned in their own land

Currently world’s most damned and the condemned displaced ethnic minority group of people are the Rohingyas of Arakan State of Myanmar, most of who are Muslims by faith (1.3 million in Myanmar). With the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD)  sweeping  to power in the recent election, held after about more than half a century of military rule, the democracy loving people and international community saw hopes for the condemned Rohingyas.

Suu Kyi dreamt that she would be the President of the new government but in Myanmar still the army has the last say and retains considerable amount of power in the government and parliament. They amended the Constitution and incorporated a clause saying whoever is married to a foreigner cannot hold the post of the President of the country. That sealed the fate of Suu Kyi. But Suu Kyi made it clear that whoever sits in that chair will be her proxy and she will run the government from behind the scenes.

For many the return to democracy of Myanmar after decades of military rule could either become a proxy military rule or even the entire exercise of democracy may collapse before it takes off. The military still controls most of the important state machinery. However, when Aung San Suu Kyi won the election and her party formed the government the Rohingyas saw hope under the new regime but their hope seems to be fast fading, just within seven months after the democratically held election.

Rohingyas have been persecuted since the British left Myanmar in 1948. Recently when US Foreign Minister John Kerry visited Yangon and raised the issue with Suu Kyi she said she needs time to address the issue and at the same time she refused to acknowledge that there are any Rohingyas in Myanmar. She, like most of the Buddhists in Myanmar, sees Rohingyas as illegal settlers from Bangladesh though historical evidence shows that Rohingya Muslims have been living in the Arakan State (according to the Burmese Rakhine State) since 16th century.

Many historians have proved that the original settlers of the Muslims in the Arakan were Arabs and over the century due to intermarriage between the settlers and the inhabitants of the adjacent Chittagong district of present day Bangladesh there were cross border migration. Only the Naf River separates the Arakan State from greater Chittagong.
Along with the Indian Sub-continent Myanmar (then Burma) was under the British rule till the partition of India and independence of Myanmar. The irony is that in May 1946 the Muslim leaders from Arakan met with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and asked for the formal annexation of the two townships in the Mayu region, Buthidaung and Mungdaw and merge with the then East Pakistan.

Two months later, the North Arakan Muslim League was founded in Akyab (present-day Sittwe, capital of Arakan State), which also asked the region be annexed. But Jinnah showed no interest. He was more focused on Punjab and getting Karachi to be part of Pakistan rather than looking to the interest of Bengal. Jinnah lacked vision and was just able to create a country which has continuously struggled for next sixty years to keep its existence intact. Once Arakan was a separate Kingdom by itself till the British annexed it in 1826 and encouraged migration to Arakan people from other parts of India, including Bengal to work in the fertile fields of Arakan. The district of Chittagong and the adjoining areas were the main and affluent part of Arakan Kingdom.

Over the years the area became increasingly ethnically polarised and in 1982 General Ne Win’s government enacted the Burmese nationality law, which denied Rohingyas Burma’s citizenship.  Today Myanmar government officially recognises 135 distinct ethnic groups, divided into eight major national ethnic races, but unfortunately the Rohingyas remain outside of the list.
Rohingyas are denied education, health care, basic civic facilities and are continuously harassed, intimidated, raped, tortured and killed by the local Buddhists and surprisingly led by some blood thirsty monks. Muslims are even not allowed to have a Muslim name.

Ashin  Wirathu is one such monk who is commonly known as Buddhist bin-Laden continuously infuriates the local Buddhists through his inflammatory sermons and encourages them to commit mass murder of the local Muslim Rohingyas. He regularly incites deadly riots through his Facebook page, where he posts unsubstantiated rumours about Muslims. Hatred of the Rohingyas penetrates all levels of society. Over the years thousands of the tortured and damned have fled Arakan to as far away places like Saudi Arabia (400,000), Thailand (100,00), and neighbouring Bangladesh (500,000). The Rohingya refugees on Bangladesh have become easy target for being inducted into militancy by religious fanatics.

Many have become involved in human and drug trafficking and to make things worse in recent times in some villages of Arakan the local Buddhists have driven the Muslin inhabitants into ghettos with signs saying ‘No Muslims allowed to stay overnight. No Muslims allowed to rent houses. No marriage with Muslims. Such irrational behaviour of the Buddhist locals may serve as microcosms of the festering religious tensions that might threaten Myanmar’s nascent experiment with democracy.

Suu Kyi remains unmoved as to her policy on the Rohingyas. Nicholas Kristoff’s the two time Pulitzer Prize winner American journalist recently wrote in  The New York Times: “Soon the world will witness a remarkable sight: a beloved Nobel Peace Prize winner presiding over 21st century concentration camps.”
Suu Kyi’s father Aung San, the rough-tongued, charismatic leader of the Burmese people who led his country to independence from their imperial warlords is revered and respected by his people and acknowledges him as their ‘Father of Nation.’ The world called his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi as the ‘daughter of democracy’ and say hope in her but as time passes by they see her unfortunately fade into oblivion and if she fails to live up to the expectation of peace loving people of the world in history the people will remember her as a person who only played her cards to ascend to power disregarding the interest of her people irrespective of religious belief or ethnic origin.

Source: Daily Sun. Date: 28 May, 2016