Rohingyas: The people nobody wants
As the Rohingya crisis has turned from a humanitarian disaster to a full-fledged genocide, the places that have offered refugees from Rakhine safe harbour are also becoming wary of them
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
In the north Indian city of Jammu, large hoardings have sprung up demanding the ouster of Rohingyas – the persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar, some of whom have been forced to live here as refugees – as they supposedly constitute a threat to the local culture. The timing of these hoardings is unusual. Living quietly and unobtrusively for the past six years, these Rohingya refugees, scattered in different parts of the country, never attracted much attention. Over the past few months there has been a change in the way they are being perceived. Suspicion has replaced sympathy in Delhi’s foreign policy circles ever since Pakistan and other Muslim nations began to plead the Rohingyas’ case and reports began to appear about their flirtation with radical Islam.
The Indian government, which had previously stayed away from commenting on the plight of the Rohingyas by calling it Myanmar’s “internal matter”, has begun to raise questions about their antecedents. Around 1.1 million Rohingyas live in difficult conditions in Myanmar where they enjoy very limited rights. Myanmarese authorities perceive them as Bangladeshis, for all purposes to be exterminated.
Recent media reports attributed to nameless intelligence sources have hinted at the involvement of a Rohingya Muslim in a terror attack in Bangladesh plus repeated attempts by Islamic State (IS) recruiters to reach out to them. As if prompted by these misgivings about their credentials as refugees, for the first time an Indian minister, Jitendra Singh, posted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office, has expressed doubts about these refugees and demanded a probe into their background and intent. There are about 30,000 Burmese refugees in India out of which 5,700 are in the state of Jammu and Kashmir where they are perceived as a threat to local culture and stability.
The Indian government, which had previously stayed away from commenting on the plight of the Rohingyas by calling it Myanmar’s “internal matter”, has begun to raise questions about their antecedents. Around 1.1 million Rohingyas live in difficult conditions in Myanmar where they enjoy very limited rights. Myanmarese authorities perceive them as Bangladeshis, for all purposes to be exterminated
Myanmar, which is fervently fighting an impression that its army is engaged in genocide, has recognised the cleavage in the international community regarding the Rohingya refugees. What has particularly caught attention is the manner in which the Foreign Policy Advisor of Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz, took up the Rohingya issue in the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) meeting in Malaysia earlier this year. Aziz demanded that the Muslim ummah should take up the issue to alleviate the crisis and that the Rohingya Muslims be recognised as citizens of Myanmar. The Myanmar weekly, Mizzima, which used to operate out of Delhi when the military junta was in power, said: “Pakistani diplomats across the Islamic world are lobbying as much for the Rohingya cause as for Kashmiri separatists.” The Mizzima report further says, “After the OIC conference, Pakistani diplomats who usually lobby OIC member countries for the cause of Kashmir's freedom from India have also tagged the Rohingya cause in their advocacy.” More importantly, Mizzima quotes a West Asian diplomat travelling with the Abu Dhabi crown prince on a recent visit to India, “There is a tendency to project India and Myanmar as villains denying rights to beleaguered Muslim communities and oppressing them.”
The Mizzima report must have served as corroboration for India’s religious right which harbours deep suspicion of these Muslim refugees. Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in 2014, it has made it abundantly clear that it is concerned only about the plight of Hindu refugees. A citizenship amendment bill has been initiated that proposes to grant citizenship to those Hindus, Sikhs and Parsis who are facing religious persecution in any Islamic country. Expectedly, it does not include any Muslim denomination whether they are Ahmediyas, Bohras, Hazaras, Barelvis or the Rohingyas who are being harassed in Pakistan or Myanmar.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been facing flak for the poor treatment of Rohingyas, finds a sympathetic response from India. The Indian foreign policy establishment believes that Suu Kyi has little control over foreign policy and security issues, which is still under the vice-like grip of the army. “There is nothing she can do on the issue of Rohingyas. The army has its own views on what kind of threat perception they represent,” informs a senior official in Delhi. The Indian government has been working with the Myanmarese army and there is also a move to create a bulwark against Islamic terror by bringing together Hindu and Buddhist nationalists. Recent Buddhist conclaves in India have given more meaning to this compact, which is not just directed against the Islamists but also aimed at controlling the Chinese hegemony in South and Southeast Asia. It’s an interesting strategic manoeuvre which is yet to pay dividends except to aggravate tensions, but it could see greater play in the future.
A citizenship amendment bill has been initiated that proposes to grant citizenship to those Hindus, Sikhs and Parsis who are facing religious persecution in any Islamic country. Expectedly, it does not include any Muslim denomination whether they are Ahmediyas, Bohras, Hazaras, Barelvis or the Rohingyas who are being harassed in Pakistan or Myanmar
Meanwhile, the Myanmarese army has discontinued its operations in Rakhine State after nine security personnel were killed in a raid by alleged Rohingya radicals near a border post close to Bangladesh. About 69,000 Rohingyas left the country and about 1,000 people were murdered in these operations. Known as the “people whom no one wants”, activists documented serious human rights abuses against them. There were also allegations of mass rape against those trying to cross over to safety.
Suu Kyi is cognisant of the harm this issue has done to her image and has reached out to former UN Security General Kofi Annan to sort out this matter. Be that as it may, neighbouring countries like Malaysia are sending relief supplies to the Rohingyas, which does not portray Suu Kyi in a good light.