Rohingyas: The Nowhere People Whom Myanmar Disowns – Analysis


By Mohammad Kamal Hosen*

With great hope to bring about an immense socio-political change by breaking the shackles of military rule, the people of Myanmar were at last able to express their opinion freely and fairly in the November 8, 2015 general elections to have the National League for Democracy (NLD), a pro-democracy political party under Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, take over the country’s administration.

The free and fair elections kindled a hope for the people that Suu Kyi, as a peace activist, would be able to show some dynamism in forming specific guidelines to bring under control the country’s much talked about ethnic violence.

One year after the national elections, the change that Suu Kyi could bring into the situation is only intensifying the communal violence and tension. Her deafening silence on the Rohingya issue has bred heavy international criticism but only to make her even more silent. She has, during this one year, completely failed to produce and sustain any peace among her country’s communities.

How could a peace and pro-democracy activist, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, make her voice even meeker when she is faced with the question of humanity and peace?

A question that leads one to dig much deeper into finding a suitable answer. That’s perhaps the task of researchers. What I intend here is to have an inquiry into what actually she has done for her country since 2015, other than the global promulgation of a political party under a democratic guise even in the UN General Assembly.

She protested in favour of democracy and suffered house arrest for 15 long years. But her indifference, in fact neglect, to the Rohingya crisis has saddened the whole world. She carefully averted the term Rohingya in her debut address as Myanmar’s national leader before the UN General Assembly, to imply in the country’s hate propaganda that Rohingyas are not their people, although historically they are.

It’s notable here that Bangla literature in its medieval age was significantly indebted to the Arakan Royal Court where the prolific poet Alaol produced the notable Padmavati, Satimayana-Lor-Chandrani, Saptapaykar, Saifulmuluk Badiuzzaman, and Sikandarnama.

Myanmar has for long refused to recognise the Rohingyas and absorb them into its ‘mainstream’ population only because they are ethnically Muslims, and because they speak in Rohingya, an Indo-European language related to Bengali and so they are mistakenly presumed to be illegal Bengali migrants. In the process, they have been stripped of citizen rights—their place of living (to be only deported to ghettos, temporary shelters for displaced Rohingyas), their means of livelihood, their movement — not a political one but the mere act of moving — their speech and opinions and their socio-politico-economic involvement in the country’s mainstream.

They are restricted from giving birth to more than two children, only to become extinct from the land in course of time. It is often reported by the international media that the Myanmar military runs hunting operations in the ghettos by fits and starts in the name of sorting out ‘Islamist militants’. Though the government says it goes after terrorists, the Myanmar security forces have been accused of conducting a violent, heavy-handed response that’s targeting Rohingyas alone.

We have heard about cases of arbitrary arrests, rape, torture, looting by Burmese soldiers and allegations of extrajudicial killings. We can unhesitatingly echo former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who chairs the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, that violence “is plunging the State into renewed instability and creating new displacement”.

A Theravada Buddhist, although internationally known as a figure of patience, Suu Kyi could not rise above the kiddle of religious bigotry. Look how she showed anger and irritation when she was interviewed by a BBC journalist Mishal Husain, a Muslim in religious belief, in 2013—“No one told me that I was to be interviewed by a Muslim.”

Suu Kyi’s disappointment “might be caused by the question asked by Husain on the hardships experienced by Muslims in Myanmar. Suu Kyi was also asked to condemn the anti-Muslims and those who acted violently against the Muslims that led the Rohingyas to leave Myanmar” (Popham, Peter, Journalist for The Independent, The Lady and The Generals – Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Freedom, 2016).

Don’t democracy and human rights teach us to respect differences in beliefs and celebrate brotherhood and sisterhood? Whatever the religion, shouldn’t Suu Kyi and all of us respect each other and not discriminate against other human beings? Who could answer why she is acting like this?

This might be answered in two ways—first, because she has religious hatred for Muslims or second, perhaps she is still afraid of the country’s military because it seems the military runs the state under the shadow of a democratic existence in power that is NLD. If that is not the case, NLD could not defend the military onslaught being carried out in Rakhine state by brazenly issuing statements of utter rejection against any sort of allegation of thwarted human rights.

Her role regarding the treatment of the ethnic minority has very well posed a serious question mark of her right to retain the Nobel Prize.

On our part, opportunities are rarely availed to discover the in-depth picture of the happenings, for the Myanmar government is limiting access to and the information flow from the region. In fact, Northern Rakhine State has been turned into an information black hole.

The United Nations must urge the Myanmar government to assist it to independently investigate human rights violations there. The world body can create pressure, to a great extent, on the government to allow independent monitors and aid workers into the still-reclusive region.

It should make the country understand the essentiality, as a member of the UN, of putting in place human rights, and of instilling peace and order in the region. The country should be held accountable for conducting heavy assaults, worth naming genocide, which it has perpetrated for years.

Here, the role of the UN can be put into question regarding giving the Rohingyas back their civil rights as Burmese citizens, instead of one-sided urging to Bangladesh to open up its gates to flood into the already population-laden country.

Yes, Bangladesh should show empathy, which we are globally committed to, for the displaced populations of some millions. We should follow the example of the European countries so that no Aylan Kurdi lies on the shore dead.

But how could a small country like Bangladesh alone bear the weighty burden on its shoulder while there are big neighbours like India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China? All of them are strategically hushed. We should provide asylum to those who are displaced, but who will guarantee that they will be taken back once the situation comes under control? Moreover, Myanmar is not a war-torn country. The things being perpetrated are its very own creation to drive its Muslim minority citizens out to the nearest countries.

Let’s follow UN advice. What will happen then? They will mix with the local people and will somehow manage Bangladeshi passports, thanks to the incapacity of our local administration, and then will never go back to their country. This is what exactly Myanmar has planned for.

Therefore, Bangladesh should be given guarantees by the UN, which should be done with much urgency with Myanmar’s consent, for those people won’t survive many days floating in the sea, that these people will be taken back to their country of origin once a settlement is done.

*Kamal Hosen is a journalist with The Daily Observer, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]

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