Rohingya Issue- Simply The Killing Of Minorities Or More Than That?

Article By : Gaurav Kumar

According to the latest reports, PM Narendra Modi will be travelling to Myanmar after BRICS meeting in China to further discuss the Rohingya crisis. Last week Indian government decided to deport 40000+ illegal Rohingyas living in India. Although this step was condemned by opposition, human rights organisations and many other countries, government have not yet revealed any well-defined plan till now. Even terrorist organisation, Hizbul Mujahideen warned India of grave consequences if they try to deport Rohingyas from Jammu and Kashmir.

 Reflecting on the past events till date, thousands of Rohingya’s houses have been burnt, lakhs of people displaced and hundreds killed while travelling to Bangladesh and other countries but Myanmar government is still mum on this. UN is pressuring Myanmar government, many nations have termed it as “ethnic cleansing” but, the violence keeps on rising day by day. The number of bruised bodies is increasing and the pall of sorrow felt by the displaced people can’t be expressed in words. In spite of being the biggest humanitarian crisis of this decade in South Asia, there seems no plausible solution to this. Lets understand this crisis in detail.

Myanmar Suu Kyi Silence

Who are Rohingyas?

The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority who migrated from Bangladesh and reside in Myanmar. The community procreated in large numbers within a very short period of time due to lack of family planning, because of which the native community in the area has become a minority and deprived of their own lands that were grabbed by increased population of Rohingyas. They practice a Sufi-inflected variation of Sunni Islam. The estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar account for nearly a third of Rakhine’s population. The Rohingya differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically and religiously.

According to Rohingyas, they are indigenous to Rakhine State, while the Burmese historians claim that they migrated to Burma from Bengal primarily during the period of British rule in Burma, and to a lesser extent, after the Burmese independence in 1948 and Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

Burmese nationality law, denied citizenship to the Rohingyas honoring the opinion of vast majority of Burmese(96%). The decision also came as a result as the Rohingyas were rebelling the government for several decades with the support of external forces, mainly from separatists movements and extremist groups including Al Qaeda.

The Rohingya insurgency in Western Myanmar was an insurgency in northern Rakhine State (also known as Arakan), waged by insurgents belonging to the Rohingya ethnic minority. Most clashes have occurred in the Maungdaw District, which borders Bangladesh. Local Mujahideen groups were rebelling government forces from 1947 to 1961, in an attempt to have the mostly Rohingya populated Mayu peninsula in northern Rakhine State secede from Myanmar, and have it be annexed by East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). In late 1950s they lost most of their support and surrendered to government forces.

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However Rohingyas have stayed in Burma for several generations and account for nearly 4% of Myanmar’s population.

Reason for violence

The violence started after brutal rape and murder of a buddhist woman by some muslim men. The incident saw retaliation from Buddhist men, but the situation got serious when muslims started killing buddhist monks instead. At least 19 such monks were beheaded in couple of months. This led to the monks siding with native Buddhist groups who were fighting Rohingyas.

In the past, Christian and muslim missionaries had tried to convert Buddhists into christians and muslims, but after facing resistance, they went in shadows, but muslim missionaries continued forced conversions. On the other hand, Rohingya communities  were highly conservative of inter-faith marriages where they punished and sometimes killed their women in case, they married someone outside Rohingyas, while they promoted their kin to marry Buddhist women and latter convert them to Islam which even holds viable to this date. This doesn’t sit well with some conservative factions of the Buddhist majority for obvious reasons.

Although minor conflicts occurred among both communities, nothing serious occurred until about 5 years ago where Muslims gathered in numbers and walked the streets killing the minority natives in their areas, which is why Burmese Buddhists started counter attacking the Muslims who were killing their brothers and sisters in Rohingya lands.

This led to increased violence with Human Rights Watch terming it as “ethnic cleansing”. The fact that thousands of Rohingya prefer a dangerous boat journey that they may not survive to staying in Myanmar speaks volumes about the inhuman conditions they face there.

A Myanmar border guard police officer stands guard in front of the remains of a house burned down in a clash between suspected militants and security forces in Tin May village,  Buthidaung township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar

A series of attacks on security posts along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in October 2016 revived ethnic violence in Rakhine state. Local government and authorities blamed Rohingya militants for the attacks, prompting an inflow of military and police forces to support a manhunt for those responsible and tightening security. Dozens of people were killed in raids, tens of thousands displaced internally, and at least sixty-five thousand crossed into Bangladesh between October 2016 and early January 2017. Reports in November indicated that the security lockdown was also preventing the entry of much-needed food and medical care from international agencies into villages.

This resulted to their migration in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and India(through Bangladesh) and still continues .

Myanmar Government reaction to violence

Myanmar was an army ruled state and is finding difficulty in transition to democracy.  Aung San Suu Kyi’s legacy is not admired by all. Army is still having “controlling stakes” in day-to-day administration. According to some reports, Rohingyas problem is handled by army and civilian government have little say in this, making the crisis more complicated.

In some of the worst fighting in decades, Burma’s army says 370 fighters tied to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have been killed since the group first moved on dozens of police posts in the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 25. Fifteen members of Burma’s security forces and civil service and 14 non-Muslim civilians died in the attacks.

Though it emerged only a year ago with origins in the diaspora, ARSA claims it fights for the more than 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims in Burma, also known as Myanmar. The government calls it a terrorist organization.

The government insists they are immigrants from Bangladesh despite generational roots. Burma disputes the very term “Rohingya,” preferring “Bengali” or “Muslims in Rakhine state.”.They were even barred from voting in the last general elections in 2015 and are left without political representation. The Rohingya are also subject to many restrictions in day-to-day life: banned from travelling without authorisation and prohibited from working outside their villages, they cannot marry without permission and, due to movement restrictions, they lack sufficient access to livelihood opportunities, medical care and education. Due to restrictions to the number of children per couple, thousands of children are left with no birth registration documents, further restricting their access to basic services and decreasing their chance for a decent life.

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi listens as reporter asks her a question during a news conference in Yangon

Critics say Suu Kyi has failed to stand up for the Rohingya, while defenders argue she is hamstrung by a still-powerful military, which ruled Burma for half a century. But when it comes to Rakhine state, the government and the military seem to be speaking with one voice. Government officials say security forces are rescuing civilians and engaging militants.

 Myanmar’s national security adviser said this week that the new insurgent group is intent on establishing an Islamic state in Rakhine, but members counter that they only want rights enjoyed by all citizens in Burma.

How this crisis impacts India?

No country in the region would be more keenly interested in Myanmar’s progressive transition to a democracy than neighbouring India.

After fleeing Myanmar, almost 40000 Rohingyas have found their place in India concentrated in the seven states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi. According to a Reuters report, only 9000 of the 40,000 Rohingyas who living in India are registered.

New Delhi’s record of accommodating the Rohingyas is manifestly better than that of Beijing as it has accepted thousands of Rohingyas over the past many years. Yet, this policy may already be undergoing some changes, slowly but steadily. India has not signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol which require countries to accept refugees.

It is a sad truth that even though the Rohingyas in India are desperately poor and sometimes lack even the most basic benefits that the Indian state confers on citizens and legal residents, they still feel life here is still better than back in Myanmar.

Concerns for India

  1. Security Implications

The International Crisis Group, in a December 2016 report, warns of a new Muslim insurgent group known as Harakah al-Yaqin (Faith Movement, HaY) seeking an end to persecution of the Rohingya and recognition of their rights as Myanmar citizens. HaY does not appear to have a trans-national jihad terrorist agenda but ICG warns that continued use of disproportionate force, particularly in the absence of efforts to build stronger, more positive relations with Muslim communities, could create conditions to further radicalize sections of the Rohingya population that trans-national jihadists could exploit for their own agenda. Clearly, this poses serious security threats.

The terror attack in and around Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya on July 7, 2013, was targeted at international Buddhist tourists to avenge the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, according to arrested SIMI and Indian Mujahideen suspect Mohammed Umair Siddiqui.

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They are very poor and in dire need of money and thus can come into influence with extremist groups and follow jihad, if radicalized. In Jammu and Kashmir, terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen warned Indian government of grave consequences, if they consider deporting Rohingya muslims. This may help them gaining sympathy from rohingyas which stand a plausible chance at being recruited for militancy.

2. Political Implications in Myanmar

Even if the situation doesn’t lead to the emergence of a radical jihadist group, any protracted conflict would seriously hamper the road to democratization in Myanmar. Myanmar’s military continues to operate independent of the governing party, has control of key ministries, and holds enough seats to block any constitutional amendment. Fighting with ethnic groups continues and repressive laws remain in place. Yet with Suu Kyi in government, Myanmar is closer to democratizing than it has ever been. Unresolved conflicts, not just in Rakhine but in other border states where ethnic groups continue to seek autonomy, appear to justify military solutions where broad-based, political solutions are needed. Without progress in terms of peace and security, the military Junta’s hold on power will not weaken and democratization grows more distant.

3. Governance Implications

Even if we provide them shelter in India, this will be a temporary solution. Still thousands will be persecuted and lakhs will flee to different countries. We already have violent movements going on in J&k and northeast India, not to forget illegal Bangladeshi citizens living in India. We have seen many riots last year due to communal tensions. Our security agencies are already overburdened and it wouldn’t be an intelligent step  involving them on another front with  present limited resources. Tracking these people movements won’t be an easy task in such a large country like India. Poor people are  always more vulnerable to human trafficking, prostitution, etc. Our country already has population problem with very less resources available, granting them social security and providing them every facility from scratch will be difficult. So, it’s better to have talks with Myanmar government for their safe settlement there.

4. Economic Implications

India is not a resource rich country in per capita terms. We are already having jobs shortage and huge poverty. We are spending lakhs of crores on subsidy and welfare programs, in spite of, these spendings our hospitals are not modernised, teachers are not well paid, infrastructure requires huge boost. In this time, India is not in a position to further spend crores on these refugees in their welfare and security.

5. India-Myanmar Relations

India and Myanmar is having good diplomatic relations. Although China have more influence in Myanmar, India is building many infrastructure projects including transport corridor connecting India, Bangladesha and Myanmar. For the development of North east India, we require good relation with Myanmar. We have a porous border and thus require good support from Myanmar army to stop militants from attacking India and fleeing back to Myanmar territory. India is also looking forward signing a deal to sell petroleum products through North east India to western Myanmar. Thus, the need of hour is India having a very cautious approach with Myanmar and helping in its smooth transition to a working democracy.

Conclusion

Although India’s reluctance to public statement against violence is understandable, it can ill afford to ignore the crisis in Myanmar. Even if human rights consideration is least of our worries, it will be positive for India if stability and peace returns to Rakhine state. Once peace returns to the region, India can ask Myanmar to take back its people as it did with the east Pakistan refugees during Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. A stable and democratic Myanmar will naturally gravitate towards India. Most important concern is, Rohingya crisis if remains unsettled, will become a path towards radicalization and become a grave security threat for India. Even now there are reports of radicalisation among sections of Rohingya community.

The escalating violence in Rakhine State can best be solved by allowing access to international observers and humanitarian aid. An independent international investigation is needed to address the grave abuses being reported out of the country and to deter further abuses. The current violence is occurring in a vacuum of impunity in which neutral reporting and, more importantly, life-saving aids are being denied.
Punishing the general Rohingya population by cutting off aids and denying credible neutral reporting only sets the stage for further death and suffering.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) needs to abandon its consensus and non-interference approach and perceive the ongoing problem as a regional problem. It would require some ASEAN disciplining of Myanmar, the time for that has arrived.

Myanmar's State Counsellor Suu Kyi shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Modi during a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi

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