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-110019, India.

This paper endeavours to engage with the Rohingya crisis, visually explained as the boat people. The attempt is to transcend the immediate context of a stranded people and explore the larger world of reference, compelling the people to take suicidal voyage. In absolute definiteness, their lives unfold a reality of endless hatred, abuses, rights violation and continuous persecution inside Myanmar. These unjust acts in epistemic way unfold conspicuous intention of categorical indifference to the existence of the group. The displacement and refugee crisis is but half reality of a naked truth of state sponsored dehumanizing efforts. However, it would be more appropriate to state the case as one of domestic as well as global injustice fundamentally embodied in abandonment, the extreme form of indifference.

Amid all cosmopolitan whimpering of a barrier free world, modern-State with its essence of legal coercion and phlegmatic exclusivity continues to flaunt. In such absoluteness, enquiring the issues of people seeking refugee would be synonymous to that of traversing the margins. Particularly at a time of extreme jingoism and other form of conservative assertions, the idea of ‘global village’ unfolds as a ‘formless chaos’, more particularly for the displaced people and subsequent forced refugees.

While prolongation of UN and the ever-expanding wave of globalization yield a consolatory ground, the reality of many lives opens horizon of indispensable necessity to contemplate global injustice and question the ideal protocols of international morality. For instance, the images of Syrian exodus in recent times reminded many the reality of inter war period. Moreover, the events, inter alia, Brexit, the result of U.S. Presidential election and subsequent anti-immigration policies and many immigration related reforms under taken by sub-continental governments insinuate the world might be undergoing a radical phase of extremely inwardly complacent national attitude. Many  countries not signing the 1951 Refugee Convention makes the issue of the refugees all the more important and worth academic contemplation. In fact, the immediate fallout of many refugee related events has given the world a pressing sense of human rights violation in multiple facets as well as degrees. More often than not, the world has proved to be too unkind to let the hapless sustain.

If one were to rhapsodise recent cases of refugee that can really interrogate the intrinsic values of human survival, for obvious reason, it would have been the Syrian exodus and the Statelessness of the Rohingyas. While the agonizing plights of these two populations have been captivated by media with subsequent deliberation, a fruitful solution to their problem is still a distant dream. 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 section would establish the violence, marginalization and state sponsored atrocities to recover the pattern of a radical and enduring injustice.

The last section arrests the state of stolidity on part of international community as well as abandonment of the population by the Burmese government. This would eventually prove their case as one of enduring injustice embodied in indifference.

  1. An Identity of Contestations: 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, thereis a need to be inquisitive about the history of the beleaguered Rohingyas. Interestingly, their history and existence is 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 Buddhist) (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 Myanmar (Coclanis, 2013).

The Rohingyas were selectively recognized (though not as ethnic indigenous group) and given citizenship during the democratic phase of Burma (1948-62) particularly under the government of U Nu; also including the broadcasting of their language from Burma radio (Naing & Sichel, 2015). Many of them also served in the government services in the initial phase. But this too was recognized whose previous two generations had lived in Myanmar (Lindblom, Mars, Motala, & Munyan, 2015). However, the change of equation in the Burmese politics, the historic military coup in 1962 and the subsequent regime of Ne Win ended the official existence of democracy as well as recognition of Rohingyas in Burma. Again in 1982, a new citizenship law was brought rendering most of these people stateless (BBC, 2015). The act and the policies of the then government insisted on recognizing only the ethnic groups living in the country before first Anglo –Burmese (1824-1826) as legal citizens of Myanmar (Chan, 2005). This was the beginning of a dark era that was to follow the Rohingya population for an indefinite period. The rest of the history was destined to be an era of displacement, statelessness and abandonment for about one million populations in the western coast of Myanmar.

  1. The people of nowhere: Tracing the Trajectory of Injustice against Rohingyas

Injustice is an act involving unfair treatment and undeserved suffering, resulting in moral or material loss for the victim in a particular world of reference. While the tools inter alia exploitation, oppression, discrimination and humiliation generate sites of victimization, the degree of sufferings may vary from case to case. The life graph of the Rohingyas too unfolds a tragedy of group injustice in an enduring and radical pattern. Their condition has not merely generated sympathy from the world media and intellectuals; rather, a more fundamental question has appeared, if they are the world’s least wanted people (Naing & Sichel, 2015).

The isolation, persecution, killing and displacement of the Rohingyas have definitely given ground for many questions and probable speculation. As a matter of introspective contemplation this also compels one to imagine a reality of contradictory context to intrinsic values that modern world stands for. The picture of hundreds of the poor Rohingyas drifting perilously while fleeing their own country via Malacca strait and Andaman Sea and often detained by Military personnel of South East Asian countries is a replica of the voyage of St. Louis of the inter war period. The captured reality sent a conspicuous message to the world to decipher the condition of the Rohingya’s injustice, rights violation, statelessness and displacement. Precisely speaking, the Rohingya issue intimidates the liberal sense of rights and dignified life in terms of systematic internal rights violation as well as externally appearing condition of statelessness and refugee crisis. Even the contested form of historical narrative does not provide an excuse for this kind of perpetrated despondency.

According to the United Nations, the Rohingyas are the world’s most neglected and persecuted minority. More painfully it has continued to be a long history of persecution and alienation. However, this has to be understood in terms of discrimination and marginalization from citizenship discourse as well as their condition of statelessness and refugee due to displacement. Therefore, it is a case of domestic radical injustice as well as context of global injustice.##


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