Where Is India’s ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ When It Comes To Rohingya?

I’m not a staunch or devout theist. Nor can I recall myself claiming to be an atheist either. I’m more comfortable with expressing agnosticism than having any fervent attachment to beliefs lacking rationality.

But I’ve always taken pride in the collective and harmonious cultural milieu of India, in spite of how imperfect the nation may seem in myriad ways. I presume culture to be a culmination of a way of living built by groups of human beings and passed on from one generation to another.

Culture is generated after a long process of amalgamation of people from different civilisations carrying various customs and traditions and having varied religions. All such elements endow a new civilisation to the land.

Through out its history, India has been generously accommodating towards several tribes, hordes, refugees and even invaders and plunderers. No other land besides India could ever be credited to have adopted and embraced people from manifold areas so wholeheartedly.

People from diverse backgrounds came and settled in the peninsula – this includes central Asians, Turks, Afghans, Tibetans, Persians etc. We’ve triumphed through our tradition of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’, comparing the guest to God. The land, thus, belongs to no particular sect or religion at all. And that is why, even the Constitution of India embodies the idea of secularism, giving it a formidable part in the preamble.

But the recent stance of India on the Rohingya issue is not only disappointing but it might also affect India’s carefully crafted soft power image across the globe. In its haste to appease the Myanmar government and to stem China’s growing influence in the Buddhist nation, the Indian government’s move is unabashedly contemptuous and contradictory to the values of hospitality and inclusiveness that India stands for.

Calling 40,000 Rohingya Muslims to be terrorists and treating them as a potential threat to the nation isn’t just ignominious but a mockery of the plight faced by these victims of aggression who now belong to no nation. Frightened and scared, the Rohingya are considered to be one of the world’s most persecuted stateless people and yet they are tagged as potential criminals.

Instead of being compassionate, India shunned their hope of seeking refuge and denied basic public amenities. As a citizen of the nation which enjoys being hailed as the ‘big brother’ amongst its neighbours, we have belittled ourselves to an extent where no apologies would compensate for the apathy we have shown towards the some of the most unfortunate people in the world.

India’s dissociation from the Bali Declaration adopted at the World Parliamentary Forum on sustainable development in Indonesia, for restoration and respecting human rights of all people in Rakhine State regardless of their faith, posits grave questions to its deference to human rights and consideration towards minorities. 

It’s hard to picturise 40,000 oppressed people as terrorists/drug dealers/human traffickers or criminals in any imaginable form. I’m not a defence expert to see what harm they could pose to the nation.

I could only see tormented and terrorised human beings who have been through a lot and are still being hunted down. The least we could do is provide them shelter and homage to allow them to feel safer and begin a new and better life without the fear of thrown out.

If a small, resource-strained nation like Bangladesh could dare to expand its wings and host 800,000 Rohingya, there are various measures India could undertake to regulate and check upon the Rohingya along with their rehabilitation. It’s not just a humanitarian effort but an obligation to furnish our responsibility as a considerate neighbour.

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