Millennium Post

Ceaseless anguish of Rohingyas

Dystopia, in simple terms, would mean an imagined society which is undesirable to live in. But what of those communities who are forced to subsist in this state of dystopia?

The Rohingya Muslims primarily occupy the Rakhine territory close to the Bangladesh border in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Their historical claim to the territory comes from the fifteenth century when a large number of Muslims voyaged and settled in the Arakan Empire of Burma. During the colonial period, many more had made the journey from the then Bengal Province to the Rakhine province in Myanmar.

Suffice to say, the Buddhist Burmese view them as Bengali immigrants with no claim to Myanmar. Since its independence in 1948, successive regimes in Myanmar have taken a repressive stance towards the Rohingyas, depriving them of their fundamental rights with brutality and intolerance.

The treatment met out to the Rohingya Muslims by the Burmese state has often been compared to the apartheid regime of South Africa. The systematic and persistent injustice against a particular group by another is the common thread that ties the two.

On the one hand today, there is a tremendous effort at building a nation which reflects democratic values. However, on the other hand, there is a simultaneous process of methodically excluding the Rohingyas from the democratic process. The recent disenfranchisement of the community is a confirmation of this very fact.

Although Myanmar contains a myriad of ethnic groups, there is comparatively more homogeneity in its religious make up. It is fair to state that the minority Rohingya Muslim community faces both ethnic and religious discrimination. Despite their constant state of poverty, the Rohingyas are often seen a financial and demographic “threat” to the dominant Burmese-Buddhist groups. The 969 movement, led by Buddhist extremists and the role played of Ashin Wirathu, a Burmese Buddhist monk and spiritual leader, has actively endeavoured to push the Rohingyas into complete non-existence.

Though “non-violence” remains a fundamental precept of Buddhist thought, the terrorism and violent nationalism perpetrated by religious affiliates and monks are based upon temporal and spatial contexts. The violence perpetrated by Sinhalese, Burmese and Thai Buddhists reflect a shaping of ideology to suit material interests while using the same to establish a more substantive grounding for the community to flourish.

The maltreatment of the Rohingyas has been recognised as genocide. The innumerable casualties in state-sponsored massacres, communal violence, and the dismal condition of the Internally Displaced Peoples’ Camps for the Rohingyas have resulted in grave physical and psychological harm. The constant persecution has caused them to flee Myanmar to seek safe haven in other countries such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, among others.

These “asylum seekers”, however, remain at the mercy of the countries they solicit refuge in. The view held of them is one that is embittered and as undesirable competitors for material resources which are already too little, given the general impoverished conditions of South Asia. There is an attempt by these nations to ward off any responsibility that comes with the influx of these asylum seekers.

Given their “stateless” and vagrant condition, the Rohingya women find themselves at an increased risk of being trafficked and sold to slavery. While the men are also often sold to exploitative jobs, women are forced into prostitution and sexual servitude. The women are subjected to regular sexual abuse by agents of state such as police officials and by elements of the opposing community.

The United Nations has declared that the Rohingya Muslims are one of the “most persecuted minorities” in the world. While there has been condemnation of the Burmese state and repeated appeals to address the atrocities, substantial steps by the international community have not been forthcoming. Given the religious affiliation of the Rohingyas and the prevailing global anti-Islamic sentiment, even residual international support for the embattled community seems to be waning.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Burmese democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the matter has been deeply perturbing. As someone who has championed the ideas of peace and human rights, her inability to take a clear stand on the inhuman treatment of the Rohingyas or completely acknowledge the state repression, stands as a grievous aberration. In understanding her inaction, one can see the constraints posed by political and electoral strategy. There is a fear of losing the democratic support of the majority Burmese population, which was achieved only after years of struggle. Despite the NLD’s recent electoral victory, the controversial Burmese military maintains significant control of Myanmar’s parliament. Suffice to say, the Burmese military has often supported radical Buddhist groups.  

A shift in perspective is a fundamental requisite to amend the situation in Myanmar. The dominant discourse takes an extremely state-centered approach to politics and security. Putting the state as the central actor becomes extremely problematic. The very institutions that are meant to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens become the perpetrators of violence and severe repression against certain communities. Therefore, it is incumbent on the international community to take up a more proactive role in solving the Rohingya crisis.

How difficult is it to co-exist peacefully? Conflict has become the catchphrase of the 21st Century. In the process of perpetuating hate, we end up dehumanising our own selves from love and bonhomie. If only love were to prevail instead of hatred, what serene and unalienated spirits we would be!

(The author is an undergraduate student studying Political Science at Lady Shri Ram College for Women. Views expressed are strictly personal) 
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