Rohingya: a story of oppression, aggression and evasion in India’s neighbourhood

Lily Paul

Lily is a student of English Journalism in the Indian Institute of Mass Communication.

She can be contacted at

Rohingyas demonstrate a story of oppression and rejection of minorities from the state and the world. The severe atrocities and pain inflicted on them is an act of dominance by the majority of the country on the helpless minority. It is disheartening to find a country which struggled so long to attain democracy treat a part of their country with this insensitivity. It is even more saddening to see a Nobel Prize laureate and a victim of authoritarian rule turn a blind eye towards the injustices done on her fellow citizens.

Rohingyas, who constitute around one million of Myanmar’s population are despised and looked down upon by the native Buddhist citizens as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.There are differences in opinion about the ethnicity of the Rohingyas. Some claim Rohingyas indigenous to Rakhine state whereas others say that they were immigrants brought as labourers to Myanmar by the East India Company. Even after living in Myanmar for generations the Rohingyas have been denied citizenship from the government.

Thein Sein, the ex President of Myanmar had said that Rohingyas were not a part of Myanmar’s ethnicity and that there could possibly be only two solutions to the ethnic enmity faced by Rohingyas, either to send all the Rohingyas to other countries or to let UNHCR take their sole responsibility. He also said that the conflict poses a serious threat to the economic as well as democratic reforms initiated by the government and that the stability, peace and development of the country will be affected by these conflicts.

In Myanmar: as homeless and discarded citizens

The conflict here between Muslims of the Rakhine state and the Buddhists of the region who are Burmese is not recent. There has been constant fights and communal tensions between the two groups but the conflict became so severe in May after a Rohingya man raped and murdered a Buddhist woman. Following the murder, ten Muslim men were dragged out of bus and slaughtered after which Rakhine has experienced incessant violence. The situation worsened further after some of the Rohingya militants killed two soldiers of the Myanmar army. Since then the military came down heavily upon the Rohingyas with human rights groups reporting about killings of unarmed people by the soldiers, holding them in detention and setting fire to their homes. They are pushed to camps where they are left to die of starvation, the girls and women have accused the military of raping them while cracking down on the militants. Human Rights Watch presented satellite images of burned down homes in the villages where the government troops carried their operations. The atrocities from the government saw exodus of thousands of Rohingyas to Bangladesh. Although the government has denied all the charges, they instead allege that the Rohingyas are themselves burning down their homes so as to get international attention. International journalists and social workers have been blocked by the government.

Al Yaqeen, a militant group took the responsibility of the attack on the military. This is a group born out of oppression in the region. Al Yaqeen, which means a movement of hope, shares no religious motive instead appeals the international community to help them since they are left out and are tortured by the military and the government. They are fighting for equal rights for themselves and also demand for revoking their citizenship.

It is important to mention here the Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, the man behind the growing tension between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar. His hate speeches is said to have had a major role in evoking tension between the two groups and spreading hatred against Muslims in the country. Wirathu, who was featured by the Time magazine as ‘The face of Buddhist terror’ (which was later banned in Myanmar and Srilanka) is also the frontrunner in the 969 movement. The 969 movement is an organised country wide movement which portrays itself as a way to promote and protect Buddhism but in real has been about provoking the Burmese population against the dangers of a hypothetical situation where the Muslims outnumber the Buddhists. The Buddhist shop owners are encouraged to put stickers in their shops so as to distinguish them from the Muslim businessmen, and the Buddhist population is also instructed to buy from these shops. The saffron revolution and Wirathu has complete support from the government and the public is also being provoked to join the movement for the ‘sake of their country’.

Buddhism, a religion synonymous to peace and non violence has gone completely opposite of the teachings of Buddha in Myanmar, a country identified by Buddhism and its ideals.

In Bangladesh: as unwanted and unidentified intruders

Bangladesh neither recognizes their existence nor is it willing to accept Rohingyas in to their country.The Border Guards are ordered to drive Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar. Many of the boats have been returned to Myanmar and the border police is keeping strict watch over any illegal trespassing by the Rohingyas. These people are afraid to go back to their country because of threats from the military.Bangladeshi government also refused the 33 million dollar help offered from UN to protect the community. It has also turned down many other international aids and it is strictly unwilling to accept any because Bangladesh does not want Rohingyas to seek refuge in the country. In fact the aid operations in Bangladesh are carried out secretly by the humanitarian workers because any international attention to the issue will result in shutting down of these camps thereby halting the last source of help for these refugees. They lack access to basic necessities of life, where the children suffer from malnutrition whereas the women are forced to sell sex so that they can afford food for their family. The locals of Bangladesh too look down upon these refugees. Bangladeshis despise Rohingyas since they think that the refugees eat up their already scarce resources.

Aung San Suu Kyi: an activist turned ignorant

Aung San Suu Kyi, who along with her party National League for Democracy had taken power in April this year has deliberately chosen to remain silent over Rohingyas. She is being heavily criticized for her silence by the international community. Suu Kyi, a recipient of Nobel Peace Prize herself had chosen not to address the Rohingyas even during her election campaigns since that would have meant to displease the Buddhist majority of the country. She has instead accused the international community of creating disturbances in Myanmar. She said that the problem has been exaggerated by the international community so that it looks far too worse than it really is. She was also reported to be laughing over the matter calling it fabrication from external forces. Suu Kyi’s silence is bringing her worldwide condemnation from human rights activists and organizations. The world is shocked to see Suu Kyi, a person who herself remained under arrest and suppression for fifteen years change so dramatically after she came to power.

The Myanmar government formed a State Advisory Commission led by Kofi Annan to research and give recommendations on the issue. It is to be noted that the Commission can only give recommendations and is completely powerless as far as the enforcement of those recommendations are concerned.

Reaction from the international community

The government of Myanmar along with Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized by international community for remaining silent over Rohingya crisis. Malaysia has also asked for review of Myanmar’s ASEAN membership following the “ethnic cleansing” of the minorities. The condemning of Myanmar is unusual since ASEAN follows a principle of non interference in member state’s domestic affairs but there has been voices rising against the Myanmar government over its cold and insensitive treatment of the Rohingyas.

Buddhists leaders from across the world have criticized the cruelties done on the Rohingyas. Dalai Lama also urged Aung San Suu Kyi to take a stand for the Rohingyas since “she can do something”. There have been protests worldwide against Myanmar to stop the ethnic enmity being practiced on the Rohingyas. There have been marches by Islamic and non Islamic groups showing solidarity with Rohingyas.

The solution to this ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingyas is not formation of new commissions but the unification of the international community against the Myanmar government to demand justice for Rohingyas. Myanmar government must be pressurized by the world to take accountability for its acts and to show acceptance for its people. Rohingyas deserve an equally respectful life as their Burmese counterparts. The first step towards it would be to accept them as official citizens of Myanmar.

The neighbouring countries along with Bangladesh must also understand their responsibility and not turn down the refugees entering their country for assistance. To see the world speak up for Rohingyas is a positive beginning but there’s a long way to travel. Rohingyas await major concrete support globally.





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