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Saving Rohingyas is a ‘collective responsibility’

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Saving Rohingyas is a ‘collective responsibility’

The narratives surrounding the plight of Rohingyas and the danger of giving them shelter can be quite overwhelming. This book is a call for collective action to understand and save them, says Shweta Duseja

The Rohingyas

Author: Azeem Ibrahim

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, Rs 599

The persecution of the Rohingyas and their mass migration to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Malaysia has attracted international attention in recent years. People’s opinions remain divided regarding their present condition. Many feel their anguish and wish to help in alleviating their pain and suffering while there are others who have no sympathy for them. There has been a lot of debate worldwide about their identity. The neighbouring countries have some hesitation in accepting Rohingyas as refugees who had to flee their native land to save their lives. There are several narratives which give rise to such reluctance in providing them shelter. The most popular narrative being that they are associated with various terrorist groups and will pose danger to their adopted country.

In times like these, Azeem Ibrahim’s book The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide is a crucial text to understand the politics behind the mass murder and mass migration of Rohingyas. Myanmar is a Buddhist-dominated country where Buddhist groups like the MaBaTha and 969 movement, with support from the military, have been organising violence against muslim minorities. Rohingyas being the most vulnerable group have become their easy target. In order to make a pure Buddhist state, they have created several false narratives about the origin of Rohingyas; they are labelled as foreigners/Bengalis who according to the fabricated narrative entered Myanmar during the British rule and stayed on after independence. The regime has used these narratives to create hatred in the hearts of the citizens of Myanmar for the muslims.

The book takes a historical view at the current situation of the Rohingya crisis in a political context. It offers a study of the reasons behind the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas. Ibrahim dismantles the narratives created by the Buddhist extremists in the book by looking at the historicity of their origin and their degrading condition post-independence under successive political powers. He discusses the role of the military and several political parties functioning in the country in intensifying violence against the Rohingyas. He points out that the condition of the Rohingyas in Myanmar has got worse despite the gradual progress of the nation from military rule to democracy. There was a time post-independence when they could vote and stand for elections. In 2015 elections, not even a single muslim was allowed to contest elections. Their condition has worsened over time. Currently, they have no identity, no rights, no resources to survive and are being pushed to the internal refugee camps or forced to flee the country of their birth. Their lands are being snatched from them, their houses burnt. A huge number of the Rohingya population has been persecuted and killed. So, there has been mass migration to the neighbouring areas — Bangladesh and India. Because of a lack of any legal status in their home country, they are seen as potential threats outside too. Ibrahim highlights the indifference of the state in this issue. The State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the leader of National League for Democracy(NLD) and won the Nobel Peace Prize, is all talk and no action. Ibrahim draws attention to this disjunction. She talks about inclusion of all communities in a state which has denied citizenship to its largest muslim ethnic community and sought to destroy their documentation. She has remained apathetic to their condition and has made several misleading statements regarding the issue of violence in the Rakhine state. She claims that she has tried to stop the conflict and yet she ignored the report prepared by the Kofi Annan Commission which addressed the issue of sectarian violence in Myanmar.

Her speeches are laced with liberal terms which have absolutely no connection with the reality of the Rakhine state. Ibrahim observes, “In her speech, at no stage did she mention the word ‘Rohingya’, instead using the term ‘Muslim’ or ‘Bengali’ to describe the community.”The NLD has been found repeating the argument that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants who entered the country when the British annexed Rakhine. Denying them their identity has a political strategy. These tags (Muslim/Bengali) enable the Buddhist extremists of Myanmar and a large Buddhist population of the country to retain their narrative about Rohingyas being outsiders and a threat to the nation as a whole.The largely Buddhist Myanmar is said to have been indulged in the whole process of ethnic cleansing by wholly eliminating the Rohingyas from their country denying them their basic rights. Since the Buddhist population serves as the largest vote bank for NLD, it cannot risk its position by aligning with Rohingyas.

In critical times like these when neither the state nor the law supports them, Ibrahim fears if the international community stays silent on this issue, the entire population of the Rohingyas will be wiped out from the surface of the Earth. They face persecution at home and deportation outside. Ibrahim emphasises the need for the international community to intervene and stop the sectarian violence against the Rohingyas. He reflects upon his fear, “Myanmar now stands at the edge of genocide.” Most of the Rohingyas are living in internal refugee camps. If nothing is done to safeguard the community, they face mass murder. The book in that sense is a plea to the world to take collective action and save the Rohingyas.




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