[An essay – 668 words – 27/05/2018]
There were about a million Rohingya in Myanmar before the police and the army of the State cracked down on the Rohingyan community in October 2016. The authorities were reportedly trying to drive out “insurgents” among the thousands of poverty-stricken, scared and helpless humans who are described as “one of the most persecuted minorities in the world”.
This act, an effective ethnic cleansing, comes after nearly half-a-century of persecution against the Rohingya. A coup in 1962 ensued military rule in Myanmar and the junta rule took a hard line against the Rohingya. In 1982, a citizenship law was enforced which did not recognize Rohingya as one of the 135 legally recognized ethnic group thereby depriving them of the basic citizenship and thereby restricting medical assistance, education, and employment. More than 200,000 Rohingyas fled to neighboring countries in this period.
Historically, the Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim minority who live in the Rakhine state, Myanmar. They speak a dialect different from that of the mainstream Burmese. In 1824-26, the British took control of the Rakhine region and encouraged migration from neighboring countries. The population of the region grew by three fold in this period.
The presence of the Muslim minority was problematic for the Buddhist population which was and still is, the majority in Myanmar. In the eyes of this majority, they are viewed as illegal immigrants who benefited during the colonist rule at the expense of the native folk. These tensions soon evolved into communal clashes after independence and the formation of Myanmar. The religious differences between native Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims fuelled further hate.
This sense of apparent “nationalism” led to successive governments refusing to recognize the Rohingya. In fact, even the term “Rohingya” is not used by the Government and are instead called “Bengalis”.
Violence erupted in October 2016 as the police claimed that three guard posts were attacked by militants killing nine policemen. This was followed by counterterrorist operations organized by the government. Reports suggest that close to a 100 Rohingyas were killed, about a 1000 Rohingyan households burnt and dozens of women raped at gunpoint by army officials. Humanitarian aid of any form was cut off by the military. The persecuted lived in dire poverty, most of whom were farmers and small traders.
The horrendous “clearance” act attracted allegations against the military, as a senior UN official and human rights groups alleges that the government was trying to get rid of the Muslim minority for once and for all.
The “counter-terrorism” operations continue to this day despite the international outcry on the issue. The military has denied allegations, of what is being branded as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing by a top UN official. Speaking on the issue, Professor William Schabas, an expert on genocide spoke to Al Jazeera, a major global news organisation, “trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping that eventually they no longer exist, denying their history, denying their legitimacy of their right to live where they live; these are all warning signs that it’s not frivolous to envision the use of the term, ‘genocide’.”
Aun San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner from the state – a national hero and the de facto leader who has been the face of democracy in Myanmar for the last decade has come under sharp criticism for failing to recognize the atrocities committed against the Rohingya. It is to be noted that Suu Kyi has no control over the military and she recently broke her silence over the matter in September 2017 as she condemned the human rights violation against the persecuted. She promised “verification” and “resettlement” of the eligible who have fled the country fearing violence.
More than 400,000 Rohingya have fled since October 2016 and in all, since the 1970s, close to a million Rohingya have fled to escape persecution and violence. As the crisis ensues with no solution in near sight, the Rohingya can do nothing but to keep looking for a place they could call home.