Construing the Rohingya Crisis: Tracing indifference and Injustice in a Narrative of Displacement and Refugee

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Construing the Rohingya Crisis: Tracing indifference and Injustice in a Narrative of Displacement and Refugee
By Ankur Jyoti Bhuyan – Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism, New Delhi, India.

This paper attempts to decipher the Rohingya issue and construe it as an enduring injustice embodied in indifference as well as abandonment. It is with this argument that the paper starts with a brief account of the historiography of the Rohingyas, giving some sense to understand the trajectory of their current predicament. The next section would seek to trace the root, events and pattern of probable genocide inflicted on these people. This would eventually prove their case as one of enduring injustice embodied in indifference.

Tracing the Rohingya History   — Anyone keeping an eye on the recent international events would recognize the Rohingya’s identity as one of absolute marginalized. However, notwithstanding the highlights of international media calling for an end to their plight, the world largely seems to be unaware of the essence of this long-standing issue. Therefore, before harping into any instant assessment, there is a need to be inquisitive about the history of the beleaguered Rohingyas. Interestingly, their history and existence are a site of contesting claims. While the Rohingyas presents their own recorded past and attract the intellectual sympathy, the Majority Buddhist population of Myanmar have thoroughly denied the claims with their counter narrative. An anatomy of the life graph of this community would be provided in this section to crystallize the crisis.

The Rohingya issue has definite contestation in terms of its historical narrative. They are being stripped of ethnic recognition and citizenship facilities with an allegation that these ‘Bengalis’ had been brought to Burma by the British (Jacob, 2017). It means that they don’t carry an indigenous and ethnic history attached to Burma prior to that. Rather, the Myanmar governments have emphasized on their own sense of victimhood during colonial exploitation and often identified the Rohingyas in terms of the erstwhile colonial experience (The Economist, June, 2015). Equally provoking is the accusation that the term Rohingya is to be found neither in Burmese and Bengali language, nor in any administrative records of the British rule in Burma.

The word was for the first time used by a Buthidaung MP, Mr Abdul Gaffar in an article “The Sudeten Muslims” in the Guardian Daily on 20th August 1951 (Chan, 2005). Indeed, it is perceived that all the propagated histories in media and academia are actually fabricated, dishonest and fanciful (Saw, 1994, p.89). It is also asserted though Rohingya is an old word, it has been used as Political label only after independence; it is not an ethnic concept (Leider, 2016). Rather, Rohingyas have been perceived as having their direct link to the erstwhile rebel group Mujahids, led by Mir Cassim (during 1950s) with the objective to establish a separate Muslim state of Arakanistan (ibid). However, the history of the Rohingya is not that simple and the contestations necessitate a thorough study beyond mere convenient manipulations.

The Rohingya historians have their account of history covering many centuries, giving them indigenous status,within Arakan State. Rohingya, an ethno-religious term basically implies Muslim population whose ancestral home is Arakan or Rakhine in Myanmar (Zarnif & Cowley, 2014). The term has continued to be the group’s collective self-referential historical identity (Zarni, 2014) In the recent past their concentration has been recorded in the three northernmost townships, Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung of Rakhine (Lindblom, Mars, Motala, & Munyan, 2015). In a very interesting articulation, Muslims are said to have lived here since eighth or ninth century. It was consequential in terms of the Muslim migration through sea route with trade objectives. They continued to reside in the Rakhine area with different quantity of population at different periods (Coclanis, 2013). It is believed that King Min Saw Mon of Marak- U dynasty (1430-1784) allowed some Bengalis to settle in the outskirt of the state as a token of appreciation for certain helps. They also served in the court in various capacities. However, the inflow of the Bengalis accelerated in the middle of the seventeenth century in the form of assigned workforce.

These thousands of Bengalis captured by the marauding Arakanese in the 17th century joined the existing Muslim population (The Economist, 13th June, 2015). Though not as a political or cultural term, the Muslim residents of 18th century Arakan (older name of Rakhine) used the term ‘Rooinga’ to refer to themselves (Dapice, 2014). Later on, particularly, the report of the first British deputy Commissioner Arthur Phayre, while reporting about the indigenous people in the Akyab district, is said to have recorded a group named Ro- Khoing-Tha (Arakanese) ( (Chan, 2005). As a matter of cryptic interpretation, scholarly assumption considers this insinuating the initial imprint of Rohingya legacy in the Arakan. However, more Muslims were brought by the British Colonial masters to the area from across Bay of Bengal in the 20th century (Chia, 2016). The south Asian migrants (more than half were Muslims) resided mostly in lower Burma were employed in agriculture, transportation and construction, rice mills, as merchants and moneylenders as well as in British civil services and the British Military. A large part among them stayed in the Arakan, now Rakhine state, the conflicting spot in today’s Myanmer (Coclanis, 2013).

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