When it comes to finding out the world’s most persecuted minorities – the name Rohingya will be at the front. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority group with almost one million living in the Buddhist-majority country of Myanmar. They speak a Bengali dialect and live in the northwest part of the country, known as the Rakhine state which is counted in the poorest region of Myanmar. A long and complex historical background makes this piece of information relevant to most of our generation.
When the 1982 Citizenship law was laid out, the Rohingya were not recognised among Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups, and their citizenship was denied. Most of their rights are refused, asserting that documents are needed to confirm that they have been living in Myanmar for the last 60 years. Ironic, since they were always denied the paperwork. Their right to travel, study, marry and even employment is restricted.
The Myanmar leadership are in a double-bind, where they don’t want to agitate the majority Buddhist population of Myanmar and interfere with ethnic conflict that the Rakhine state is offering. Even the Government of Nobel Laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the political party NLD, struggled to come to settle the ethnic conflicts of the Rakhine state. According to the estimate, 110,000 people fled by boat to countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines to escape the deteriorating situation of Rakhine state.
Some of us are aware of the suppression that has been encountered by the Rohingya, but for most of us, the information regarding the beginning of the conflict is superficial. Here I am trying to put some historical background the will help us to connect the dots and give it a shape.
Rakhine state was previously known as the Arakan. The Arakan kingdom was a medieval one, which was situated at the edge of South Asia. It became a Burmese province after the Burmese annexation of it in 1784. For Bangladesh and India, the province became of significant interest when the Moghul Prince Shah Shuja and his family were brutally massacred by the Arakanese King Sandathudamma.
Shah Shuja was the Moghul Governor of Bengal (1639-60). Shuja was assured of asylum by the Mogh Arakanese King. But soon after the assurance, he was robbed and his family was brutally murdered. The followers were agitated and the anger spread to the Moghul capital of Delhi. Shah Shuja’s uncle Shaista Khan led a conquest and conquered Chittagong. The mighty presence of Moghul in the bay created internal chaos at Arakan. The Arakanese lost their profitable business from piracy and slave trade. This turn of events, brought the end of the human suffering come organised by the brutal Arakanese rule.
The Arakanese at that time were known for the terror they created for their people and the neighbours. They fought among themselves and changed their leaders whenever they wanted. The political situation of Arakan was in turmoil. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Arakan administration, the Burmese annexation of Arakan took place. Under the Burmese rule and Arakan negligence; Arakan became a tiny and backward province of Burma.
Because of its desperate role for producing refugees Arakan made the headlines of international media, for most of the 20th century. The people who suffered the most are the Rohingya population.The Rakhine hoodlums and the Burmese military are accused of plotting a war against the Rohingyas. In the search for survival, the Rohingya refugees took shelters at the Southern Chittagong. The Rakhine leaders and Burmese military claimed that those people are originally from the Chittagonnian territory.
Contrary to the claims, most of the Rohingya fled in 1978 found carrying the National Registration Cards. When a fresh influx came to Bangladesh, the Rohingya leaders claim that this time their cards were confiscated. Rohingya people were discriminated based on their ethnic and religious identity. There were systematic plans of underdevelopment in the state of Rakhine by the Burmese military and the administration, which led the Rohingya flew from Rakhine state.
Rohingya children are the most affected from the deplorable policies imposed on the ethnic community. It is drastically affecting the physical and mental development of the kids and leaving a long lasting impact on their mind.
There are shreds of evidence of a larger influx from Burma to other countries. Because of the Burmese invasion of Arakan, a lot of people took refuge in Southern Chittagong and Chittagong Hill tracts of Bangladesh. Among them are the Chakmas, Rakhines, Marmas and Tanchainga. There were many Burmese invasions, among them three are most remarkable. These three left long lasting implication on the consequence shaping of the Arakan Province.
By killing his own brother, Anawrahta claimed the throne of Northern Burma for himself and established Buddhism as the dominant religion of the territory in 1044 AD. He then invaded Arakan and came to know as the most brutal king of that time. He was the one who gave Buddhism, which was known originally a non-violent religion, a brutal name. The religious fanatic king invaded Arakan with the intention to bring change from the Indianized population into an Asian variety one. He helped the Tibeto-Burman Buddhist population to get settled in Arakan. During his rule, the Chakmas got threatened and left Arakan for Southern Chittagong.
The second Burmese invasion took place in 1406 AD, by the Burmese King Min Khaung Yaza. The Arakan king Noromi-Kala, along with his large followers took asylum at Gaur, the court of Bengali Sultan Gaisuddin Azam Shah. This invasion led to large amount influx from Myanmar. After 24 years, Sultan Jalaluddin Khan sent his general Wali Khan to restore Yaza to his throne. Now Yaza takes the name Sulaiman Shah and becomes the Arakan king again. But again Wali Khan takes the throne of Arakan and ruled it. He became the first independent Muslim ruler of Arakan. He was the first one to introduce the Persian language to Arakan. Nadir Shah sent his troops of 30,000 to restore Yaza as the Arakan king. Wali Khan was killed in the battle and as promised Arakan returned the 12 feuds of Chittagong to the Moghul rule. The whole of Northern Chittagong then came under the Muslim rule. Because of the consequences, a large number of Rohingya Muslim Population got settle down in Arakan.
The final annexation of the Burmese rule in Arakan is considered as the most brutal massacre in Arakanese history. Both Rohingya and Rakhine population became the ruthless prey to Burmese cruelty. The Burmese King imprisoned 20000 people and destroyed temples, shrines, mosques and libraries. The Burmese king took the Mohamuni, the famous Buddhist statue, a symbol of Arakanese pride of Independence. Chittagong was under the British rule, during the time of Burmese invasion of Arakan. The British never tried to rescue the Arakan Kingdom. Many Hindu and Rohingya population escaped Arakan for Chittagong. In references to the Burmese brutality some scholars describe, to break the spirit of the people, men; women and children were driven into bamboo enclosures and burn them alive by thousands.
The oppression to the Rohingya refugees to this extreme that they preferred to get slaughter at outside Arakan state rather than going back to there. In 1824, there was a decisive war between the British and Burmese and resulting in the occupation of Arakan by the British. By then because of too much suppression Arakan almost became depopulated. It was in Kalandan and Lemro river valleys where the Rohingya Muslims were farmers and peasants. There were fewer men to cultivate the lands as the Rakhine males enjoyed entertainment rather than working hard. British policies encouraged the people to migrate to the fertile valleys in Arakan. Despite the horrific memories, many of the Rohingya and Rakhine population migrated to Arakan from Chittagong. Aye Chan, a xenophobic writer claims the return of the Rohingya to Arakan as the influx of foreigners into Arakan as he mentioned Rohingya as Bengali Muslim and surprisingly he was silent on the issue of Rakhine influx. But Chan didn’t take into account most of these people who returned to Arakan to claim their possessions. Naturally, the Muslim migrants were the original Rohingya inhabitants of Arakan returning to their ancestral homes. The fear of uncertainty was persistent and the were returnees driven by the nostalgia. Many Rohingyas preferred to work labourers.
During the 1930 and 1938 anti-Indian riots led by the Monks made the Muslims feel threatened. That time the British census made things more complicated as they identified the Rohingyas as Indian Muslims. In 1942, the British withdrawn from Arakan and the Japanese took control over of Arakan. The Rakhine population getting threatened of their existence by the Rohingyas, started to draw a plot to throw out the Muslim population out of Arakan. This time huge number of Rohingya ran away to Chittagong. There was no action taken by the British to bring back the Rohingyas. During this time the Rakhine Rohingya relation deteriorated drastically.
In 1948 Burma earned its independence, during this time Burma’s democracy leader Aung San tried to bring the harmony among Burma’s different ethnic communities. But the entire team of democracy leaders were assassinated by the powerful military regime. The Rohingyas were further threatened by the development. In 1962, General Ne Win took over power and confiscated Indian and Chinese owned business and advocated the Burmanisation policy. He proposed that Burma is for the Burmese population, referring to the belief that Burma is for racially mongoloid people who are by religion Buddhist. His government identified Rohingya as Indian Muslims.
The story of Rohingya is complicated and unfortunate. This minority ethnic group continues to undergo persecution. Whatever they have gone through, there is no solution to the conflict in sight. The ideologies we followed to get to the solution may look peaceful but the histories they carry is brutal.