In Retrospect

Identity crisis: Lack of equal citizenship

From the Rohingyas of Myanmar to the Hindus of Bangladesh to the Muslims of Hindustan, what unites most of them is a lack of equal citizenship, writes Garga Chatterjee.

The attempted ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas by the mostly Myanmar Army is a huge humanitarian crisis. There have been deaths, rapes, arsons and burning of whole villages. This started a huge exodus of Rohingya refugees into the neighbouring People's Republic of Bangladesh. Myanmar government maintains that Rohingyas are Bengalis. Some also Bengalis claim that Rohingyas are Bengalis. Rohingyas say that Rohingyas are Rohingyas.

Rohingyas appear to be particularly friendless, especially among stakeholders who matter and not Erdogan type neo-fascist Ottomans who want to project a sort of leadership position in the Sunni "Ummah" by public acts of benevolence through relief giving photo-ops of his wife and an offer of building 1 lakh shelters. It is cynical but apart from Bangladesh, that's huge and at this point, everything counts – even aid from USA and India. The so-called Sunni "Ummah" does not treat brown Muslims are equal human beings, so naturally, the great defenders of the 2 holy sites of Islam are busy devastating Yemen and have not made any offer to provide refuge to fleeing Rohingyas or even the Muslims among the Rohingyas. China has sided with Myanmar government. The USA seems unmoved by their plight. The Indian Union has sent token relief to Bangladesh but has proclaimed Rohingyas inside the Indian Union as illegal immigrants and not refugees and has instructed its Border Security Forces to confront Rohingyas with pepper spray. It is sick but that is to be expected from a government at New Delhi that is driven by Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology. In many ways, this reflects the sad reality of a post-Cold War quasi-unipolar world where effective multi-polarity is still more theoretical than real. The Soviet Empire, with all its ills, was an effective check against unipolarity of the Yankee Empire. Thus, when a flashpoint happened or a huge humanitarian crisis happened, if one of them sided with the perpetrators, the other sided with the victims. Rohingyas today are friendless largely due to the loss of that global political balance.China has had a long-standing relationship with Myanmar during its wilderness years- thus acquiring mineral resources, mineral exploration rights and crucial infrastructure including a port and pipeline project that will enable oil supplies to come from the Gulf to China bypassing the straits of Malacca. The Indian Union is playing a makeup game for the benefit of its own big Banias who bankrolled BJP's rise to power in 2014. It's payback time. There are projects in Myanmar for Delhi to grab and handout to these big Banias and some such projects are already in place. There is nothing that Rohingyas offer to anyone in any cynical cost-benefit analysis. Bangladesh, a very poor state, is left holding the bag and the refugees on its own land that is the largest landmass in the world at its density of population level.
In this context, the enthusiasm and solidarity of pan-Islamists of all hues, from the benign to outright genocide supporters of Bangladesh 1971, have been the biggest impediment for non-Muslim solidarity, especially among non-Muslims in the Indian Union and the People's Republic of Bangladesh. If these pan-Islamists were actually interested in the plight of Rohingyas, rather than using their images of real Rohingya plight and in many cases manufacturing fake images of Rohingya plight, they would have desisted from playing sectarian political games in their own domestic context. But that moment is over. In fact, such a moment of possibility has ceased to really in the 24-hour multimedia networked world and the huge social media presence. From the moment the Rohingya crisis erupted, "Islamic" solidarity erupted too with full vigour and it asked the question "Are Rohingya Muslims not humans?" without any irony. Such is the strength of this narrative that even the Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina mentioned in the Bangladesh parliament about the Muslim aspect of Rohingyas. As it turns out, most Rohingyas are Muslims but all Rohingyas are not Muslims. Many of the Hindu Rohingyas are also among the refugees and disturbing reports have emerged from TV media in Bangladesh about Hindu Rohingya refugees being raped and tortured in Rohingya camps. Additionally, BBC has reported a mass grave of Hindu Rohingyas, mostly female. Though not independently verifiable, the Myanmar Army has claimed that this is the work of Muslim Rohingya insurgents, whose coordinated attacks on Myanmar Army outposts triggered the chain of events leading the brutal campaign of the Myanmar Army that caused the mass exodus. Reality is always more complicated than narratives that emerge out of it. Otherwise, this subcontinent would not have produced so many Muslims who believe that Hindus are the worst type of human beings and so many Hindus who believe that Muslims are the worst type of human beings. In such contested times, the Rohingya issue becomes a 'Muslim' humanitarian issue and Erdogan becomes neo-Suleiman, the magnificent.
In West Bengal, the Rohingya issue has had some play in public discourse. There are a few Rohingya refugees in West Bengal. The Union government has announced that it considers them as illegal immigrants and not refugees and hence liable to be deported. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made her stance very clear on this issue. It is a humanitarian issue and she will not allow any Rohingya refugee to be deported from West Bengal. The Union government's attitude on this humanitarian issue has been one of inhumanity, given its otherwise open-door policy on not deporting persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring states. Thus, Sunni Muslim minorities persecuted in their homeland are not fit for the even token verbal compassion compared to other persecuted religious minority groups. Like Sheikh Hasina, in the eyes of anti-Muslim Hindu communal forces of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology, Mamata Banerjee, too is a minority appeaser. The few Muslim refugees apparently plan to complete Islamise West Bengal under the watchful and willful actions of Mamata Banerjee, who they also accuse of being a closet Muslims. The fantastic, if not borderline insane, claims of this political front of West Bengal feeds off partly from the Delhi plan of making West Bengal a vassal state, an extension of the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan hegemonic space, partly from the pathological hatred of Muslims many of them actually harbor and from the action of Islamists in West Bengal. For example, on this Rohingya issue, multiple protests were held in West Bengal. In Kolkata, the consulate was gheraoed by students and youths. Islamists didn't join. Some Muslims did. Various hues of Islamists held their own protests. The one by the Student Islamic Organization (SIO) held banners which talked about 'genocide of Muslims in Burma', without even mentioning the term Rohingya! This is ironic because it is at this point still does not fulfill the internationally accepted definition of genocide, neither is it only Muslims who have been affected among the Rohingyas and Burma is now Myanmar, a name change that reflects an ideological shift. Another such protest by Islamists in Kolkata had a prominent Urdu-speaking loudmouth, with the self-certified authority of talking on the behalf of Muslims the 95% Bengali speaking Muslims of Bengal, conjuring up gory images of mass violence. He said that 'our' ('Muslims' as he imagines them) people might lay down 72 lives but will make sure that the other side has 1 lakh funerals. Such things were said in broad daylight peppered by chants of 'Allah Hu Akbar'. One of the main organisers of this protest was also one of the main organisers of the biggest protest in Kolkata (and read the next bit carefully because this is quite amazing and shocking) in support of war criminals of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide! These are the kind of elements and characters that the Rohingyas have, in their support and that do not help the Rohingya cause but the utterly friendless Rohingyas cannot practically do much about it, even if they wanted to. And that is the tragedy. The Christian fundamentalist nonchalance of the USA, the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan imperial ideology of the Indian Union, the local variants of a hardline pan-Islamist ideology in Bangladesh, West Bengal and in Rakhine state and Burmese Buddhist ethnonationalism of Myanmar are the major narrative shapers here among the stakeholders. It is an intersection of stupendous hate from an assemblage that collectively represents a significant section of the scum of the earth. The Rohingyas are in the middle of it. And every other ideological 'enemy' of the different stakeholders are smaller co-victims.
And yet, the Rohingya issue and all the associated victims of communally inspired oppression, are also products of colonialism and the inherited political and structural nature of the successor states. And these narratives of competitive hate often also miss out the various powerless ones, counted as members of such armies of hate but are people who are victims along multiple axes with little real freedom to stand apart in any meaningful way. That is often the majority of the people caught under terms like 'Rohingyas', 'East Bengali Hindus' and such. Thinker and political activist Khalid Anis Ansari of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, drives this point home – "Rohingya is an ethnic issue and a product of the constitutive violence of the nation-state in general. Homologically, it needs to be placed alongside the Tibet, Kashmir, Baloch and other similar conflicts. The framing of the Rohingya violence through the 'Islamophobic' lens (a replay of the Kashmir conflict) is part of the white imperial 'clash of civilisations' project and legitimizes all right-wing 'native' voices, through competition and symbiosis, thereby excluding subaltern concerns." History bears this out. It had different names in different times. From the Rohingyas of Myanmar to the Hindus of Bangladesh to the Muslims of Hindustan, what unites most of them is a lack of equal citizenship.

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