By Sabhya Kumar:
History has been witness to racial and religious discrimination since time immemorial. One such case is of the Rohingya Muslims, a minority ethnic group in the largely Buddhist north Rakhine of modern day Myanmar.
The Burmese government refuses to recognise their ethnic nationality and this million people strong community is forced to live in ghetto-like camps. They are officially stateless and citizenship is granted if they have lived in Myanmar for 60 years and even then, paperwork is unavailable. They have no permission to marry, travel or access basic healthcare services.
Some Rohingyas have fled Myanmar for nearby Thailand and Malaysia where exploitative and unscrupulous employers extract work from them without adequate compensation. They face persecution both at home and overseas. Such is the mistrust back home that even the newly elected leader and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, is afraid to comment on their plight. None of the 1151 candidates who stood for elections from the National League for Democracy, Kyi’s party, are Muslims. She has maintained stoic silence on the issue and has never as much as been heard saying the word Rohingya.
Hardcore nationalist monks think of the Rohingyas as illegal Bengali immigrants and not as a distinct Burmese ethnic group even though many of them have lived there for years. In particular, a Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, also known as the ‘Burmese Bin Laden‘, cites Islamic extremism to provoke the Buddhist community against the Muslims.
While this violence is not new, it has been going on for decades now and it has visibly worsened in the recent past. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has termed this communal strife as “slow genocide“ and US President Barack Obama as well as his then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been quick to condemn it.
But where it matters most, in the Burmese corridors of power, there is no sympathy at all. Human right violations continue unabated. There is an urgent need to bring Myanmar to task for shunning the Rohingyas. The international community must encourage and pressurise Burma to rethink its stance on this vital issue.