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All You Need To Know About The Brutal Crackdown On The Rohingya

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The brutal crackdown on the Rohingya insurgents is in its fourth day. The security forces of Myanmar are locked in a fierce battle with the Rohingya insurgents who, according to media reports, assaulted 30 police stations and an army base on August 25, 2017.

This incident was reportedly a coordinated pre-dawn guerrilla attack against the mighty security forces of Myanmar who are known to have been inflicting ruthless cruelty on the 1.1 million minority Rohingya Muslims living in segregated camps in subhuman conditions without any civic amenities including basic primary health care.

Rohingya insurgents unleashed the armed attack killing 12 members of the security forces whose heavy-handed retaliation has claimed 92 lives of Rohingya militants and forced thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. Amid the escalating crisis, the Myanmar authorities have successfully evacuated 5,000 non-Muslim villagers to check unnecessary casualties.

The pre-dawn raids unleashed by Rohingya militants brought back memories of a similar attack carried out by the same group on October 9, 2016, with the border guard police (BGP) being the target. The October attacks which marked a dramatic escalation in the level of violence in a long-running conflict killed nine security personnel resulting in the unprecedented heavy-handed response from the Buddhist majority state.

The state responded, according to the Rohingya and international human rights groups, with locking down of the area and unleashing a cruel violence killing hundreds of people and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. According to the media reports, the UN report revealed that Rohingya babies and children were slaughtered by knives during the infamous crackdown last year.[iii).

The Emergence of Rohingya Militancy

The decades-old pervasive climate of fear and hatred has resulted in the emergence of Rohingya militancy. The October attacks were a modus operandi of a militant group known as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The insurgent group, previously known as Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY), is led by Rohingya émigrés living in Saudi Arabia and is commanded on the ground by Rohingya with international training in modern guerrilla war tactics.

The group enjoys substantial popular support from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The group also enjoys an overwhelming support from Rohingyas living in Rakhine State amid extensive fear and arbitrary restrictions on their freedom of movement.

Besides, there has been a surge of international humanitarian and political support for the Rohingya cause, especially from Muslim countries that have projected the Rohingya as the Palestinians of Southeast Asia.

Mass Atrocities Against Rohingya

In March 2015, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Centre for the prevention of Genocide visited internment camps in Myanmar. They found enough preconditions to conclude that early warning signs of genocide were already in place and a timely action was needed to prevent future mass atrocities or genocide. The Simon-Skjodt Centre enumerated among other things the following reasons to reach this conclusion:

  • Physical violence and physical segregation of Rohingya from other ethnic groups.
  • Complete blockage of humanitarian assistance.
  • Rampant and unchecked hate speech against the Rohingya minority.
  • Arbitrary restrictions on freedom of religion.
  • Unrestrained sexual violence and arbitrary arrest of Rohingya.
  • Restrictions on business and education.

Myanmar’s Perspectives on Rohingya

Myanmar excludes Rohingya from citizenship rights under Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law. This law fosters rhetoric that Rohingya are foreigners and should forcibly be evicted from the country. The government restricts humanitarian assistance reaching Rohingya and blockage of information flow in and out of Rohingya communities.

By severely limiting the basic freedoms of the Rohingya, the state indulges in gross human rights violations of Rohingya people. The state also restricts the human rights groups to verify the extent of human rights breaches independently and by and large, denies the allegations of human rights abuses.

Last week, the military and the de facto ruler of Myanmar Ms Suu Kyi had denied allegations of ethnic cleansing or a campaign of targeted violence against the Rohingya. According to the New York Times, the government had, in the aftermath of the October attacks, barred journalists and aid workers from entering the conflict area. This had frustrated the efforts of media groups to do an independent verification of the accusations that the Myanmar military was carrying out a campaign of murder, rape and arson against the Rohingya.

The Friendless Rohingya

The Southeast Asian nations are known to have a hands-off approach when it comes to meddling in the internal affairs of its member-countries. That is the reason why the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states rarely chide the Naypyidaw. Recently, the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called out Ms Suu Kyi for not doing enough to stem the violence against the Rohingya.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a coalition of 56 countries, held an emergency meeting on January 19, 2017, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to call for an immediate halt to military operations in Rakhine State.

The UN and Western Human Rights Groups have often condemned the unbridled violence against the Rohingya minority group in Myanmar but have failed to take any concrete action against the Buddhist-majority state.

The Mass Exodus of Rohingya

Since the Friday raids, around 18,000 Rohingya civilians have fled violence-hit Rakhine State, and many of them are stranded near the countries border with Bangladesh which is blocking their entry into the country despite the UN’s clarion call to Dhaka to let the refugees in. Dhaka has let in 65,000 Rohingya in the aftermath of the October attacks, though the country was already overburdened with the presence of an estimated half-million Rohingya in squalid camps across Bangladesh.

Some of the Rohingya refugees have crossed the Bangladesh-India porous border and have landed in India. An estimated 40,000 Rohingya are thought to be living in various parts of India.

Two weeks ago, India sent shockwaves to the violence-hit Rohingya refugees living across the country when Kiren Rijju, a junior home minister of India, branded them as illegal migrants and declared his government’s intention of their deportation without divulging much about the modus operandi. Human rights advocates, on the other hand, questioned the practicality of rounding-up and ousting thousands of refugees scattered across the length and breadth of the country.

Right-wing groups in the past have often raised demands of their deportation, invoking their illegal entry into India and there being a burden on the economy as well as a threat to the security of the country.

India should not bow to the pressure of right wing forces and fulfil its international obligations to help the UN High Commission for Refugees to attain its responsibilities. The Indian authorities ought to help the refugees instead of ruining them.

India and Bangladesh should be assisted by democratic countries to handle the pressure of the mass influx. India, being a big brother in South Asia should play a bigger role to assist the Rohingya victims. The Naypyidaw should heed the advice of the Advisory Commission led by Kofi Annan, a former Secretary General of the UN. The Commission, formed at the behest of Ms. Suu Kyui, called for urgent action to improve the citizenship status, freedom of movement and human rights of Muslims in Rakhine.

To sum up, the UN Security Council should take immediate and concrete measures to rein in obdurate Myanmar.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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