Ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya – a reality

Many believe that the Rohingya have been a part of Myanmar well before the British colonists arrived and have been an integral part of the country ever since. They have been mostly concentrated in the Rakhine region of the country and have been subjected to horrific atrocities from time to time. There have been countless instances of genocide-like situations for the community before but nothing as brutal as what started in 2012 and has been going on ever since albeit with varying degrees of intensity. The events have plagued a stratum of people who have in many ways got used to living in conditions that are sub-human and have accepted the same as their destiny.

The world is aware of what has been going on in Myanmar for way too long now, but nothing has been done so far to save the countless lives that are being lost on a daily basis. As many as 800,000 people have been displaced from the Rakhine region into Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, and India. Their living conditions in those countries are not better than what it would have been had they been at the mercy of Lucifer himself. The ones who were unlucky enough to stay back have faced a greater ordeal. They have been restricted to a concentration camp-like holding areas and have been denied basic human rights like the right to movement, medical treatment, etc. They are not allowed to work or earn and are forced to live off the scraps that the government gives them. There are no medical facilities in these camps and the one doctor who treats patients is not even a doctor. Children are dying of malnutrition and of diseases like dysentery and diarrhea that are easily treatable.

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The silence of a Noble Peace Prize winner

It’s almost ironic that the Prime Minister-equivalent of Myanmar is 1991 Noble Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Her father was the one who broke the shackles of colonialism and made the country in the image of a nation that gave equal rights and privileges to all citizens irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, etc. The Rohingya in Myanmar were equal citizens and enjoyed all the rights and privileges as any other until 1982 when the Citizenship rules of the country were re-written and this time it left out the Rohingya. Stripped off their honour and right to exist, they started crumbling under the oppression meted out to them by the security forces and the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists with whom they were sharing the land.

When Suu Kyi was questioned about the genocides of 2016 and beyond by a journalist, she replied by saying that she would not go so far as to call it a genocide. Shockingly, even after the truckload of evidence and testimonials at her disposal, she continues to shrug off the genocides by calling the evidences exaggerated and asking the world to ask the question “why the same was happening” instead of telling her that “it was happening”. That was one of the most perplexing statements that I heard from a world leader in a long time.

The impact of Ashin Wirathu and his 969 Movement

Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk who was hailed by the then president of Myanmar as the son of Buddha has been known to be someone who has peddled his hate for the Muslim community under the guise of Nationalist fervour for long. He was even featured on the TIME Magazine cover with a headline that read “THE FACE OF BUDDHIST TERROR”. He was imprisoned on charges of inciting violence and was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment but with the situation in Myanmar changing and the need of a leader to mobilize mass emotion felt, he was given a pardon and released after serving 8 years of his sentence. The man immediately got back to his work and using his “969 Movement”, did exactly what the ones who had released him believed he would — spread chaos and violence with his venomous speeches.

Within a short span of time, he had incited enough hate to generate multiple riots. But he did something that was far more important for the government and military than any of the violence that he was inciting. He was able to integrate many different ethnic Buddhist groups under the common umbrella of “hatred for the Muslim Bengalis” and this let the government and the forces concentrate their full might on the Rohingya sidelining all the protest and the other disturbances from different ethnic groups that had plagued the country. The Buddhists completely forgot how brutally they were subdued by the very same government and military and were up in arms in support of what they were doing.

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The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – retribution or mistake

The Rohingya, who had faced violence for so long finally found a voice in the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), also known by its former name Harakah al-Yaqin (meaning Movement of Faith). The organization was founded by Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi, a Karachi-born Rohingya who served as an imam to a 150,000 Rohingya diaspora in the city of Mecca. He received training under the Taliban in Karachi and arrived in Rakhine, Myanmar in 2012 coinciding with the beginning of the religious riots. On 9 October 2016, Ataullah led hundreds of insurgents to the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, where they attacked Burmese Border Police posts. A week later, Ataullah appeared in an online video, claiming responsibility for the attacks. Ataullah led a second large-scale attack on 25th August 2017, which resulted in the deaths of 71 people. This was just the instigation and reason that the Myanmar Army needed to get into action. Using the attacks as pretext, the army intensified its operations and cracked down with renewed vigour and never seen before horror. When asked if ARSA was a religion-based terrorist group in an interview, one of its members made it clear that they were not religious in nature and their struggle was only for the rights of the Rohingya many of whom were Hindus.

My views on the subject

It must be agreed that Myanmar’s Rohingya have been a subjugated lot for centuries. In the absence of the very basic of human rights, it is always possible for people to resort to violence especially when they are funded from outside. With the kind of torture and insults that the Myanmar Rohingya have had to face post-2012, it is no surprise that they rose up in revolt. The Myanmar government and the military used the violence on their part as a weapon against them and targeted not only terrorists but mostly innocent civilians. They threw small kids into burning houses. There was a woman who was attacked by the security forces and after being hit on the head, she fell unconscious. By the time she gained consciousness, she realized that she was raped by at least 20 different people. A 48-year-old man who, up till the attacks was a shopkeeper, never got to meet his son who was in another part of the same area and never made it back. He had a good life but he is now one of the 8 million refugees in Bangladesh lying in the mud and in a dilapidating thatched hut with 5 little children.

It is necessary to bring the terrorists to justice, but the law of my country has always taught me that it is ok to let 10 guilty escape rather than punish one innocent. That is the belief that we Indians have grown up with. To us what is happening to the Rohingya is beyond anything that we could ever learn to come to terms with. I am confident that there must have been other ways to deal with this situation. Many parts of my country are plagued by terrorism and radicalism, but we never see our military burning away villages or using helicopter-borne artillery targeting one and all. With piles of evidence and first-person accounts to contain with, it is left to be seen when the world community will do something about this ongoing genocide. It is also left to be seen if the Rohingya community will survive this extermination.

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