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 (formerly called the Arakan province) 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.
Because of its role in 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 Burmese military have been accused of plotting a war against the Rohingya. In the search for survival, the Rohingya refugees took shelter in Southern Chittagong, which, according to the Rakhine leaders and Burmese military, is where they originally are from.
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 be known 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 of bringing change from the ‘Indianized’ population into an Asian 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. After 24 years, Sultan Jalaluddin Khan sent his general Wali Khan to restore Yaza to his throne. Yaza took the name Sulaiman Shah and became the Arakan king again. But Wali Khan again took the throne of Arakan and ruled it. He became the first independent Muslim ruler of Arakan and was also the first one to introduce the Persian language to Arakan. Nadir Shah then sent his troops of 30,000 to restore Yaza as the Arakan king. Wali Khan was killed in battle and as promised, Arakan returned the 12 feuds of Chittagong to the Moghul rule. The whole of Northern Chittagong then came under Muslim rule. Because of the consequences, a large section of the Rohingya Muslim population settled 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 prey to ruthless Burmese cruelty. The Burmese King imprisoned 20,000 people and destroyed temples, shrines, mosques and libraries. The Burmese king took the Mohamuni, a famous Buddhist statue and 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. Some scholars describe that to break their spirit, men, women and children were driven into bamboo enclosures and burned alive by the thousands.
The Arakan kingdom became a Burmese province after the annexation in 1784. For Bangladesh and India, the province became of significant interest when the Moghul Prince Shah Shuja, the Moghul Governor of Bengal (1639-60) and his family were brutally massacred by the Arakanese King Sandathudamma. Shuja had been assured 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 anger spread to the Moghul capital of Delhi. Shah Shuja’s uncle Shaista Khan then led a conquest and conquered Chittagong. The mighty presence of Moghuls in the bay created internal chaos at Arakan. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Arakan administration, the Burmese annexation of Arakan took place. Under the Burmese rule and negligence, Arakan became a tiny and backward province of Burma.
In 1824, there was a decisive war between the British and Burmese resulting in the occupation of Arakan by the British. By then, because of too much suppression, Arakan had almost become 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 more 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.
In 1942, the British withdrew from Arakan and the Japanese took control. The Rakhine population felt threatened by the Rohingya and started to plot to throw out the Muslim population out of Arakan. This time, a huge number of Rohingya ran away to Chittagong. There was no action taken by the British to bring them back. During this time the Rakhine-Rohingya relation deteriorated drastically.
When the 1982 Citizenship law was laid out, the Rohingya were not recognized among Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups, and their citizenship was denied. Most of their rights were 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 paperwork. Their right to travel, study, marry and even employment has been restricted. The Myanmar leadership doesn’t want to agitate the majority Buddhist population and interfere with ethnic conflict in Rakhine. Even the government of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the political party NLD, has failed to address it. According to estimates, 110,000 people fled by boat to countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines.
The Rohingya crisis was predominant continuously for most of the end of 20thCentury and beginning of 21th Century. There was an influx in 1978, 1990-92, 2012, 2016. The current influx that started in August 2017 is the most delicate on among the recent crisis which has led more than 600,000 Rohingya to take shelter in Bangladesh. 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. Currently, the international community is more active than earlier to a bring a conclusion to this issue because of raising concerns regarding the future of Rohingya children who have spent most of their lives in the makeshift camps, denied of basic human rights.