Rohingya in India: Fear of deportation to Myanmar
Dr Yaqoob & Dr Khursheed
The Rohingya is a Muslim minority group in Rakhine State, which occupies the western coast of Myanmar. The Rohingyas are often described as “the world’s most persecuted minority”. There are in between 800,000 and 1,100,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar today, 80% among whom live in Rakhine state. It is one of the poorest state in the country with ghetto-like camps and lack of basic services and opportunities. Rakhine State, formerly known as Arakan, lies on the north–western part of Burma with 360 miles coastal belt from the Bay of Bengal. It borders Bangladesh to the northwest, the Bay of Bengal bounds it to the west, and a mountain range to the east divides Rakhine from the rest of Myanmar.
After the World War II, Myanmar faced political instability from groups of communist rebellion and other ethnic conflicts in Myanmar. However Myanmar succeeded in achieving independence from the British Empire on the 4th of January 1948, and within six months the Union of Burma was wracked by several insurgencies. The Burmese government censors and restricts access to the information, manipulating and using the history of the Rohingya to fit its own aims. The government often uses the Rohingya as a scapegoat to unify the Burmese population under its disdain for the Rohingyas.
Until 1982, the Rohingya enjoyed some degree of citizenship in Burma. While they faced discrimination, their status as citizens gave them certain rights. In 1982, General Ne Win instituted a new citizenship law that prohibited Rohingya from obtaining equal access to full Myanmar citizenship, effectively rendering a majority of Rohingya stateless. Under the Citizenship Law, in order to be a citizen, a person had to provide proof that his or her family had lived in Myanmar since before 1948. Many Rohingya lack records of their family’s historical residence. They were effectively barred from voting in the last general elections in November 2015 and are left without political representation. The Rohingyas are also subject to many restrictions in day to day life; banned from travelling without authorization and prohibited from working outside their villages, they cannot marry without permission and, due to movement restrictions.
The Myanmar government has confiscated Rohingya land, causing more Rohingya to become internally displaced or to flee the country.By law, the Myanmar government owns all land in the country, and only citizens have the right to use and enjoy their land.As a result of their statelessness, Rohingya have no legal rights to the land on which they live and work, leaving them vulnerable to land confiscation by the government.
From 1995 to 2010, the government of Myanmar reportedly forced Rohingya to relocate within the country. A report from UN in 1995 stated that the government notified Rohingya from various regions that they had to leave their villages in a week and that they could not take their property with them. Tensions came to a head in May 2012 after a Buddhist woman was raped and killed in Rakhine state. Three Rohingya men were accused of being responsible. The Rakhine and the Rohingya both took up arms against one another, leaving at least 200 dead. Widespread violence in Rakhine left some 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, displaced. While the authorities have initiated a limited return process, over 120,000 people remain displaced more than five years after the events, living in squalid, overcrowded camps with only limited access to the health care, education and livelihood opportunities. Human Rights Watch reported that both Rakhine and Rohingya mobs attacked homes, shops, and houses of worship.The riots displaced more than 100,000 Rohingya and Rakhine, forcing them to live in makeshift camps.
In 2014, the government conducted its first census in 30 years. In the census, there was no option to register as Rohingya, so the Rohingya had to register as “Bengali,” effectively forcing them to admit what the government claims that they are – immigrants from another country. The Rohingya had been allowed to register as temporary citizens and receive a white card, which provided them with limited rights, however thegovernment revoked their white cards also. Now in February 2015 more incidents followed, with anti-Muslim violence spreading beyond Rakhine state and into other parts of Myanmar. Human Rights Watch accused Burmese authorities of committing crimes against humanity in an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya. Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar continue to be high, and any minor dispute could lead to another eruption of violence. Due to large scale persecution through ethnic cleansing and genocidal action against them,about 1.5 million Rohingyas are forced to leave their hearth and home since Burmese Independence in 1948.
On 25th August 2017, a deadly assault by Rohingya insurgents on multiple police posts in Northern Rakhine triggered a new cycle of violence, prompting an estimated 313,000 civilians to flee across the border into Bangladesh within two and half weeks. It’s a humanitarian disaster of historic proportion. The renewed fighting has resulted in humanitarian operations across Rakhine coming to an abrupt halt, leaving more than 350,000 people deprived of much-needed regular assistance. The latest clashes come less than one year after a previous assault by insurgents on three border guard posts on 9 October 2016 triggered a series of violent incidents and military operations that saw more than 87,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh in search of refuge. It is now full-blown humanitarian crisis. Rohingya men, women, and children were killed, some were buried in massgraves, and their villages and neighbourhoods were razed. Rape and dishonoring of women, forced marriage of Muslim women by Buddhists, banning hijab and forced use of contraceptives and imposition of restriction on marriage of Rohingya couples.
The Rohingya are in a very difficult situation. They are trapped with no rights and nowhere to go. Their response is born of desperation. What is surprising this time is the silence of the government led by Aung San SuuKyi’s National League for Democracy. Ms. SuuKyi, the country’s de facto ruler, has not said much about the military operation in Rakhine, or spoken for the Rohingya cause. When her party took power in April, ending decades of military rule, many had hoped that it would signal the dawn of a new era of peace and democracy in Myanmar. But the government has been largely ineffective in tackling internal security and humanitarian issues
Now Rohingys are facing expulsion from another country; India, where an estimated 400000 refugees are scattered amid a population of 1.3 billion. The centre filed a petition in the Supreme Court saying Rohingya refugees are a security threat and they must be deported to Myanmar, a stand that is likely to rile human rights activists. The government has security inputs indicating links of Rohingya refugees with Pakistan’s ISI, the ‘Islamic State’ and other extremists groups that want to spread communal and sectarian violence in India. Rohingyas with militant background are also found to be very active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat. It views them as “a very serious threat and potential threat to national security”. The Rohingyas are accused of indulging in illegal/anti-national activities i.e. mobilization of funds through hundi/hawala channels, procuring fake/fabricated Indian identity documents such as PAN and voter ID cards for other Rohingyas and also indulging in human trafficking. They add, “There is a serious potential and possibility of Rohingya violence aginist Buddhists in India”.
But these arguments of India are baseless and evidence less. No Rohingya is a terrorist. D. S. Singh, the inspector General of police in Jammu, where largest Rohingya concentration is located, has told NDTV that there are only a few cases of petty crime against them, the sort that poor refugees are often accused of, and they are not a threat to national security.
Not only as a major power in the region but also as the largest democracy in the world, there are expectations that India should extend help to the fleeing Rohingya, at least on humanitarian grounds, and contribute to help resolve the conundrum. India has been historically known to be benevolent to refugees. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, it welcomed thousands of refugees from Myanmar. Approximately 120,000 Tibetan refugees are residing in different parts of India. When there are growing calls from the international community to the Myanmar government to end violence in Rakhine state and address the Rohingya conundrum, it would not be a wise strategic move for India to ignore them.
In absence of a domestic refugee law since independence, when about 1 Lac Tibatian can take asylum in india and can take land on lease and seek jobs in the private sector in 2016. When Modi government can allow Hindus, Budhists, Jains ,Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to buy property for self living, can obtain driving licence, receive PAN and aadhar. How can Rohingya remain an exception, when the country’s basic law says that it has to give “ right to life” to all the persons in its territory?
It’s time for india to play a great role in the region. India should not deport Rohingya Muslims. They are helpless people who have no place to call home. They are not terrorists. They just want to live peacefully. Rohingya are reluctant to return to their homeland.India needs to adopt a holistic and humane approach.
(Dr Yaqoob has done Ph.d in History and is currently teaching at Govt Degree College Pattan, while as Dr Khursheed is a physiotherapist working at Care n’ Cure Physiotherapy Center, Srinagar.)
Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not necessarily reflect the position of Oracle Opinions.