For the last few days, the Rohingya issue has been making the headlines across the world. The smoke rising from the burning homes in Myanmar is now showing its effect on neighboring countries, and its impact is being seen across India as well. But why are Rohingyas in the spotlight and what is their identity?
According to the United Nations, Rohingya is the world’s most persecuted community. If seen from a genealogical perspective, Rohingyas belong to regions in present-day southeastern Bangladesh (Chittagong) and northwestern Myanmar. During the late medieval period, they populated what is now Rakhine region (formerly Arakan) in Myanmar. Most of them were Muslims. That the British originally referred to them as ‘Bengalis’, clearly indicates the cultural connect of Rohingyas with Bangladesh.
Due to both internecine and regional wars, the Rakhine region was almost emptied of the Rohingya people, who shifted to the Muslim regions to the west (now in Bangladesh).
It was during the Colonial rule after the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824 that many Bangladeshi Muslim people were made to settle in thinly-populated Arakan as a strategic policy of the British against the Burmese. Technically, therefore, the migration was from west to east.
It should be noted that Rakhine is in close proximity to Chittagong in Bangladesh. There was obviously free flow of people between the two regions before international borders came up after the World War II, and the departure of the British from the Indian sub-continent and then Burma. It has been established that a huge majority of Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine region are descendants of those who the British brought from Bangladesh.
Communal strife between Muslims and Buddhists was in existence for centuries. But things went really bad during World War II when the Muslim Rohingyas sided with the British on the promise of a state of their own and the Buddhists of the sided with the Japanese. The Japanese success would have almost driven out the Rohingyas from the territory had the British not armed them to counter Buddhists. In 1942, the age-old communal conflict between the Buddhists and Muslims erupted in the form of Arakan Massacre. Historians sympathetic to either Rohingya Muslims or Buddhists accuse each other of carrying out large-scale massacres.
Yet everything remained under a lid till 1982 when Myanmar’s government refused to give citizenship to the Rohingyas. Simmering tensions between the Muslims and the Buddhists turned into an inferno when a Buddhist Rakhine woman was gang-raped by Rohingya Muslims in 2012. The Buddhists attacked Rohingya Muslims in retaliation; the Rohingya Muslims burned down Buddhist homes in the region. It should be noted that the Myanmar government failed to contain the 2012 riot the result of which is what we are witnessing today.
The government continues to support the Buddhist contention that Rohingyas are not ethnic people. Today the situation is such that Rohingyas have emerged as a community whose existence is itself in danger.
The alleged actions of Myanmar’s army against the Rohingyas have complicated matters making an international interference essential. The number of Rohingyas in Myanmar is around 1.1 to 1.3 million, but following the action by Myanmar government, many of them have migrated to Bangladesh and India to escape the violence against them.
Though Myanmar’s leadership is de facto under Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, and the country is itself a Buddhist-majority nation, the persecution of Rohingyas is happening there. Any type of violence against anyone is a stigma for humanity; however, Myanmar is continuously denying accusations of persecution. Their contention is that the Rohingyas have organized themselves into a terrorist group which threatens the sovereignty and peace in the region.
While we should show a degree of solidarity with the innocent Rohingyas, we must not overlook the terror angle. We cannot deny the existence of a growing jihadi ideology within the Rohingya community in Myanmar, which has affected Myanmar’s peace.
The terror outfit Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is believed to have come into existence after the 2012 riots. They recruited Rohingya Muslims, got training from terrorists in Bangladesh, and carried out a series of attacks on Buddhists as well as Hindus.
In October 2016, the terror outfit attacked 30 police posts in Rakhine region of Myanmar killing around 13 members of the security forces were killed.
In retaliation, Myanmar army started a “clean-up drive” against the terrorists which resulted in the deaths of around 400 people in the Rakhine. It is difficult to figure out who among those dead are terrorists. Myanmar may have some internal reasons for not rewarding Rohingya community with citizenship but launching a direct action against Rohingyas in the name of cleaning terrorists is simply halting the prospect of peace in the country.
But till this point, the Rohingya matter was restricted to Myanmar and Bangladesh for both political and historic reasons.
Fleeing the government action against them, about 40,000 Rohingyas have taken refuge in India – all of them illegally. Some Rohingya sympathizers in India term them as “refugees” but in reality they are illegal migrants. There is a major difference between “refugees” and “illegal immigrants”. Rohingyas are illegals because India did not offer them refuge in the first place, unlike the European nations which have opened their borders to waves after waves of Middle Easterners and North Africans. The Tibetans in India are refugees because the Indian government gave them the status in 1959, the year they started arriving in India to escape Chinese persecution.
This is what Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in response to those calling Rohingyas “refugees”:
“They have entered India from Myanmar. Rohingya are not refugees, we need to understand this reality. There is a procedure to acquire refugee status and none of them have followed that.”
Of course the residence of 40,000 Rohingyas in India is a matter of serious concern for all of us! The Rohingyas are present in small pockets in various parts of India stretching from West Bengal to J&K. The Government of India has decided to deport the Rohingyas out of India following which it has been facing criticisms from around the world, including UNHRC. Some people in our country believe that Rohingyas should get shelter within India. But the government argued in the Supreme Court that Rohingyas are a threat to national security.
In its four-point plea, the Center said:
“Intel inputs say Rohingyas are a threat to national security. Rohingya terrorists are active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat. Rohingyas have links to international terror groups like ISIS. Illegal immigrants can’t stay in India as refugees.”
It is indeed true that Rohingya people have been found to have links with the terrorists. The 2013 Bodh Gaya blast was a “revenge attack” conducted by Islamic terrorist group SIMI and Indian Mujahideen for the Rohingyas. Terrorists suspected of carrying out another attack on Bodh Gaya were recently apprehended. It is also a matter of great surprise that terrorists like Hafiz Saeed are also raising their voice against the atrocities on Rohingya. The concern is that he is urging them to join jihad.
We now have reports clearly pointing out that Rohingyas killed Hindus in Myanmar. These Hindus were of Rohingya ethnicity, which clearly indicates that for Islamic fundamentalism runs deep in the majority of Rohingyas.
Reports now state that Hindu Rohingya women were forcibly converted to Islam at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. The Hindu men were killed. Who did that is not clear, but it again provides a strong evidence of Islamic fundamentalism.
In such a scenario, giving refuge to Rohingyas may actually put national security at risk.
Yes, it may be wrong to frame all Rohingyas as terrorists but the possibility of many of them getting drawn towards terrorist groups cannot be ruled out.
From a different lens, the radicalization of Rohingyas is not the only problem. We are an already overpopulated country with limited resources. So, providing Rohingyas shelter, especially when there is no population control practiced within the community, will put extra burden on our resources.
It may appear that 40,000 Rohingyas are nothing for a country having a population of 132 crore, but these 40,000 can prove very effective in changing the demography of a region, which may turn to be harmful for the harmony of our nation.
Moreover, the appeasement policy which is followed by a section of the political class of this country may embolden Rohingyas to carry out acts which may endanger the “secular” structure of this country. Today, some of the self-proclaimed champions of human rights are protesting against the move to deport Rohingyas from India and demanding shelter for them in India. But, unfortunately, these very individuals and groups who pose as human rights activists remained silent when Pundits were massacred and forced to leave Kashmir. Even now, the hypocrisy of the J&K separatists is apparent when we see how they are expressing sympathy with Rohingyas but did nothing for Pundits.
The ‘activists’ are advocating to give shelter to illegal Rohingyas in India but refrain from talking about the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pundits because maybe it is not an integral part of their agenda.
Indian culture is known for welcoming everyone but it simply does not mean that we can keep compromising with the security of the country. Few politicians and religious leaders are even trying to portray the step to deport Rohingyas as against Muslims. It is shameful that some are trying to politicize the subject of national security and protest a step which is being made for the safety of nation.
It is also unfortunate that the United Nation, at a time when it should put international pressure on Myanmar to take these Rohingyas back and stop the persecution, is asking India not to deport Rohingyas. But India reserves the full right to deal with its internal security, and as per the constitutional powers can deport anyone staying illegally in India.
And while the world is talking about the human rights of Rohingyas, no one is coming forward to give them a place in their own land. No one is asking what the Islamic nations, especially the oil-rich countries, doing exactly to accommodate these Rohingyas. None of them have offered shelter to the Rohingyas. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan offered refuge in 1960s, based on which this graphic was created.)
When there is a lot of evidence that some people in the Rohingya community are involved in terrorist activities and will certainly become a demographic and political problem for India, then why do pseudo-liberals want to see India becoming a dumping ground for Rohingyas? Can any right-thinking individual play down the threat to the security and integrity of a nation by holding a mirror of humanity? And how can such a thing be even justified?
Atrocities against Rohingyas in Myanmar are condemnable in any form, but the Indian government has the right to think about the security of the country first. This is the time when jihadist terrorism inside India is continuously expanding its footprints. If Rohingyas stay longer in India then there is a certain fear that jihadi terrorists will make them their weapons. In addition, their presence might bring allow politicians who survive on vote-bank politics to create further tensions between communities.
The need of the hour is to put constructive pressure on Myanmar to accept Rohingyas and allow them to have access to the basic facilities including education, so that they can emerge as a sensible community in near future in that country itself. But in the end, it appears that the world, which often equates any action against Islamic fundamentalists to Islamophobia, is deliberately overlooking a major problem in another land in their myopic quest of secularism.