Imagine how harsh it is to push the oppressed people – who are persecuted and forced to flee from their native place, and are seeking asylum in this country – back into the fire! “Are we the people of a lesser God?” is a question these people may be asking themselves in this perturbing situation where they are caught between leaving their native places and being forced to go back there.
Sobbing children, weeping women, and frazzled men gripped in the extremeness of trauma and despair are clearly visible. Their minds carry the horrible memories of those who were gruesomely killed – and while explaining the saga of the inhumane and monstrous behaviour they had to deal with, they weep and tremble.
In this state of desolation, they are helpless – waiting for their fate to be decided by the government here. In spite of all this, this is what the Indian government has decided, while turning a blind eye toward the plight of Rohingya Muslims, according to a Human Rights Watch report: “On August 9, 2017, the Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, told the parliament that ‘the government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas’, noting that there were around ‘40,000 Rohingyas living illegally in the country’.”
In such a situation, international organisations say that the United Nations has seemingly failed to address the Rohingya issue in Myanmar, where basic human rights are violated by the state authorities. Moreover, the racist and discriminatory forces have a free hand in persecuting these people – brutally killing them and thereby forcing them to flee to other nations.
The Rohingya people are Muslims who are native to the northern Arakan region of Myanmar. According to their history, they have descended from 7th century Arab and Mughal merchants who settled in Arakan territory. The Rohingya live alongside the Rakhine, who make up the majority in the region.
Many scholars have stated that they have been present in the region since the 15th century. However, they have been denied citizenship by the government of Myanmar for several decades when they were referred to as ‘Bengalis‘, thereby implying that they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In modern times, the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar dates back to the 1970s – both by the government and by Buddhist groups. In fact, the tension between the various religious groups in the country was often exploited by the military junta in Myanmar in the past. In fact, the Rohingya have allegedly suffered from human rights violations under past military dictatorships since 1978.
The gruesome killings, rapes, abandoning of houses delineates the ruthless ‘ethnic cleansing’ of this community on the grounds of racism in Myanmar.
In its Atrocities Prevention Report on March 17, 2016, the US Department of State summarised the situation as follows:
“The situation in Rakhine State is grim, in part due to a mix of long-term historical tensions between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities, socio-political conflict, socio-economic underdevelopment, and a long-standing marginalisation of both Rakhine and Rohingya by the Government of Burma. The World Bank estimates Rakhine State has the highest poverty rate in Burma (78 percent) and is the poorest state in the country. The lack of investment by the central government has resulted in poor infrastructure and inferior social services, while lack of rule of law has led to inadequate security conditions.”
It further said: “Members of the Rohingya community in particular reportedly face abuses by the Government of Burma, including those involving torture, unlawful arrest and detention, restricted movement, restrictions on religious practice, and discrimination in employment and access to social services. In 2012, intercommunal conflict led to the death of nearly 200 Rohingya and the displacement of 140,000 people. Throughout 2013-2015 isolated incidents of violence against Rohingya individuals continued to take place.”
Then, there is the report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), based on interviews with Rohingya people displaced from Myanmar since October 2016. The team also carried out a basic statistical analysis of the violations reported or experienced by the 204 individuals interviewed. Take a look at the following statistics:
Testimonies of witnesses (including victims): Of the 204 persons interviewed –
134 (65%) reported killings.
115 (56%) reported disappearances (including persons having been “taken away” by the security forces and not heard of since).
131 (64%) reported beatings.
88 (43%) reported rape.
63 (31%) reported sexual violence.
131 (64%) reported burning or destruction of property.
81 (40%) reported looting/theft of property.
Testimonies of victims: Of the 204 persons interviewed, many reported having personally been a victim of a violation:
26 (13%) reported having been personally shot or stabbed (the OHCHR team has photographic evidence on file).
91 (45%) reported that a family member had disappeared.
96 (47%) reported that a family member had been killed.
89 (44%) reported having been beaten.
26 (13%) reported having been raped, of whom two were girls. Among the 101 women interviewed, 24 (24%) reported having been raped.
Thirty-three reported having suffered other forms of sexual violence, of whom five were girls.
Among the 101 women interviewed, 28 (28%) reported having suffered other forms of sexual violence.
Taken together, 52 (52%) of the 101 women interviewed reported having been raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence.
102 (50%) reported that their own property had been burned or destroyed.
76 (37%) reported looting or theft of their own property.
Abandoning their homes and fleeing to save lives from their native places, the Rohingya Muslims have sought asylum mainly in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, India.
According to a Reuters article, “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingya in India.” However, the Indian government contends that tens of thousands are unregistered. In the words of Union minister Rijiju, “They [UNHCR] are doing it, we can’t stop them from registering. But we are not signatory to the accord on refugees.” He added: “As far as we are concerned, they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is an illegal migrant will be deported.”
Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch is clearly concerned by this. “India has a long record of helping vulnerable populations fleeing from neighboring countries, including Sri Lankans, Afghans, and Tibetans,” she says. “Indian authorities should abide by India’s international legal obligations and not forcibly return any Rohingya to Burma without first fairly evaluating their claims as refugees.”
On humanitarian grounds, hardly any efforts are made by the world’s communities who have pledged to raise voices against atrocities – and in pushing the Myanmar government to acknowledge the citizenship of Rohingya Muslims, which should be their basic right, and provide them their own spaces free of violence and disturbance. On the contrary, they are being forced to return back, even from the places where they are seeking asylum to save their lives. Apparently, a humanistic approach is lacking in this world when it comes to this issue.
Rohingya Muslims are not only oppressed by the oppressors in Myanmar – they are also deflated by the continuous silence adopted by other nations.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. puts it, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”