“If people’s natural rights are not provided, they take different forms; oftentimes very violent.”
– Akash Pandey
What if one day you woke up and came to know that your government has revoked your citizenship? And not just yours, but of your whole community (whether regional, ethical, religious, caste or creed-based), and declared you all illegal immigrants? If it declared you illegal, because your ancestors settled in India hundreds or thousands of years back as Aryan invaders? What would you do? Where would you go? Do you think any other country would provide you with citizenship rights? And even if they do, will they be on par with the rights and homely feeling that you enjoy in your native country?
It is a right that has become so ingrained in us that we all take it for granted. What we don’t realize is that all the human or fundamental rights that we enjoy are accorded by the state to its citizens. But what if you are not a citizen of any country – what rights do you have then? This situation or feeling can be termed as being ‘stateless’.
There is a community that is dealing with this situation right now. They are the Rohingya Muslims of the Myanmar.
The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are often claimed to be the ‘most persecuted minority in the world’. They are also popularly known as the ‘Boat People’. This is because, since 1982 thousands of Rohingya’s have been fleeing from Myanmar to other neighbouring countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and India, usually via country made fishing boats. They are often stranded in international waters since they are not welcome and are stopped from entering the other nations and forced to return back. This results in high casualties as these people don’t have enough food or water for these long journeys.
The reason for these people fleeing from their homeland and running to other countries for refuge is the 1982 Citizenship Act passed by the Myanmar Government, which doesn’t accord citizenship rights to the minority Rohingya Muslims and identifies them as ‘illegal immigrants’ – ‘Bengali people’ who migrated illegally from Bangladesh to Myanmar during the British colonial rule of India and Myanmar. The 1982 Citizenship law is practically quite similar to the 1948 Citizenship law of Myanmar, but the situation has deteriorated due to Buddhist Extremism and Islamophobia, leading to an even more severe push to send them back to where they ‘belong’ and denial of special permits to work or study. This denial of citizenship by their homeland and refusal to take them in by other states makes them stateless people with no basic human rights or guarantees.
But the logic used by Myanmar government is flawed because after all aren’t we all immigrants? Modern research has shown that humankind was born either in Africa or in Europe, and from there, we all migrated to different parts of the world. Most of the modern day nation states are made up of migrated demographics from various places. Can this then be the criteria for refusing someone their citizenship rights?
And like I have already said in the above quote – if people are not given their natural and inalienable rights, then their angst, oppression and anger can take various forms. It could be manifested in peaceful forms, like Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience and Martin Luther King’s Civil Resistance. Or can be converted into violent forms, like the Russian Revolution or the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Well, the same has happened in the case of Rohingyas. Denial of their citizenship rights and other fundamental rights led to the formation of Rakhine Salvation Army. I personally don’t support violence, but what other option do they have – because after all, you can’t talk peace with a deaf government which is carrying out violence on its own people.
In the words of top UN Human Rights official Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the Myanmar Government’s action on Rohingya Muslims is a “textbook example” of genocide. And you just can’t persecute an entire ethnicity for the crimes of a few people. If the security forces are unable to find the real culprits among the civilians, then it’s their failure, not the Rohingya people’s fault. Otherwise, it is a clear-cut case of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the Myanmar Army, with the government’s support. And what bothers me the most is that there is no civil society outcry or general, popular outrage against the military and the government of Myanmar by Burmese people. But the biggest letdown is that Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the de-facto leader of Myanmar, is unable to control the violence against the minorities of her country. Her unrepentant attitude towards the atrocities carried out by her armed forces against the Rohingyas is deplorable.
Let us hope that someday the extremist Myanmarese Buddhists will understand the value of peace that Buddhism preaches, and the leadership and government of Myanmar will understand how the good treatment of a nation’s minorities reflects on its democratic values. And as the largest democratic state of the world, it should be our duty to make sure that our neighbour also understands and implements democratic principles and values. Any turmoil in Myanmar can also have a negative impact on India.