Throughout history, India has been a land truly believing and honouring the phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, a Sanskrit phrase found in Hindu texts such as the Maha Upanishad, which means “the world is one family”.
So what do a bunch of young professionals from Delhi do on a hot, sultry Sunday? They buy Eid gifts for the Rohingya refugees to make sure they feel at home in India. Syed, Neha, Masoyo, Shahid, Bhavna, Afroz, Yasar, Imran, Mausumi and Aktar collected funds from friends and well-wishers, shopped in the streets of old Delhi and made sure each resident, including all children in the Rohingya camp, had a new dress for the coming Eid al-Fitr.
Prior to the violence that began in August 2017, the UN estimated that there are as many as 420,000 Rohingya refugees in southeast Asia. Additionally, it said there were around 120,000 internally displaced Rohingya.
The Rohingya are an ethnic group, the majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived for centuries in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar. Currently, there are about 1.1 million Rohingya in the southeast Asian country.
The Rohingya speak Rohingya or Ruaingga, a dialect that is distinct to others spoken throughout Myanmar. They are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.
Shortly after Myanmar’s independence from the British in 1948, the Union Citizenship Act was passed, defining which ethnicities could gain citizenship. According to a 2015 report by the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, the Rohingya were not included. The act, however, did allow those whose families had lived in Myanmar for at least two generations to apply for identity cards.
The Rohingya were initially given such identification or even citizenship under the generational provision. During this time, several Rohingya also served in parliament. After the 1962 military coup in Myanmar, things changed dramatically for the Rohingya.
All citizens were required to obtain national registration cards. The Rohingya, however, were only given foreign identity cards, which limited the jobs and educational opportunities they could pursue.
In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed, effectively rendering the Rohingya stateless. Under the law, Rohingya were again not recognised as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. The law established three levels of citizenship. In order to obtain the most basic level (naturalised citizenship), proof that the person’s family lived in Myanmar before 1948 was needed, as well as fluency in one of the national languages. Many Rohingya lack such paperwork because it was either unavailable or denied to them.
As a result of the law, their rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion and access health services have been and continue to be restricted. The Rohingya cannot vote, and even if they navigate the citizenship test, they must identify as “naturalised” as opposed to Rohingya, and limits are placed on them entering certain professions such as medicine or law or running for office.
As per Pew research “as of 2015, 15.6 million people born in India were living in other countries. India has been among the world’s top origin countries of migrants since the United Nations started tracking migrant origins in 1990.”
If the world has given so much to Indians why should we shy from giving back? Qadir and his friends proved just that on Sunday, June 10, 2018.
After all, if we don’t pay our due, the whole edifice of humankind will collapse.