Rohingya tangled in Burma citizenship politics

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Rohingya tangled in Burma citizenship politics

Nurul Islam (UK) is President of ARNO, London.

Burma is a multi-cultural society with multi-ethnicities. During its independence a feeling of awareness for an ethnic togetherness and comprehensive identity to form joint feelings for tranquility and safety developed. On the basis of the agreed upon principle of ‘unity in diversity’, articulated by the father of the nation General Aung San, the ‘Union of Burma’ came to existence on January 4, 1948.

Burma is a country where various streamlets of culture and civilization join together. In a pluralistic society like Burma there must be a joint life on the diversity of cultures. But due to racism and racial discrimination, the culture of Burman majority is assumed as the national culture and on its margins, there are small cultures of the numerous ethnic groups and are assumed as non-national or inferior cultures. Regrettably, today Rohingyas are considered practising foreign way of life having no origin in Burma, despite the fact that the heyday of independent Arakan began with the Muslim civilization, which reached its zenith during the most glorious period of Mrauk-U, “the creation of a remarkably hybrid Buddhist-Islamic court, fusing tradition from Persia and India as well as the Buddhist Worlds to the east.” 1 On top of that “Arakan was virtually ruled by Muslims from 1430 to 1531.” 2

‘Rohingya problem’ started in Burma from British colonial period onwards. There were violent anti-Indian (including anti-Muslim) riots in 1930-31 and again in 1938 in which several hundreds Indians and Muslims were killed in Burma. Muslim properties: shops, houses and mosques were looted, destroyed and burned under the campaign of ‘Burma for Burmese only’. Similar anti-Muslim sentiment blew up in Arakan too. In April 1942, armed Rakhine in connivance with Burmese nationalists carried out a pogrom in Akyab district and massacred about 100,000 unarmed Muslims. Bulk of the Muslims was internally displaced, and nearly 50,000 of them took refuge in the British held territories of Chittagong and Rangpur. The resultant damages were enormous causing serious demographic changes in North Arakan. The Muslim population in the alluvial Kaladan and Lemro deltas were depopulated to be populated by Buddhists. The hard-nosed hate mongers in Arakan have continued the hostility signing the mantra of Rohingya extermination. Martin Smith observes:

“In Arakan itself, there is little evidence of such communal flare-ups but as a result of these experiences, many Burmese nationalists and politicians have never really bothered to distinguish between Indians or Muslims in general and the indigenous Muslims of Arakan. The word commonly used to describe Muslims in Arakan is the pejorative word “Kala” or foreigner, which is exactly the same word commonly used to describe Muslims or Indians anywhere else they live in Burma (anti-Muslim prejudice is not just confined to Arakan today).”3

The successive Burmese governments have had pursued policies of exclusion and persecution against Rohingyas while some hardhearted Rakhine academic and politicians are engaged in racist and xenophobic plans to marginalize and exterminate them. With preoccupation of ‘Muslim phobia’ the former dictator Ne Win promulgated an oppressive Burma Citizenship law in 1982 in order to deprive the Rohingyas of their time-honored citizenship and ethnic rights in Burma.

Despite some recent reforms towards democratization, civilianized military government of U Thein Sein has so far no change of attitude towards Rohingya and has created hostile climate in North Arakan. The government continues to treat them as aliens using this oppressive nationality law in a random manner. While the authorities and xenophobes reject or exclude Rohingyas, nevertheless their distinct South Asian physical feature, language and frontier civilization are a true manifestation of the ancient people of Indian Bengali Chandra dynasty in Arakan. Conversely, the Rakhines and no-one else are treated as natives of Arakan for being Buddhists in shared characteristics with the majority Burman, speaking an archaic form of Burmese. This favourable reception of ‘Rakhine only policy’ is a threat of Buddhistization through assimilation.

In the situation of Rohingya, the 1982 citizenship law promotes Burmanization or Rakhinization aims at exterminating the Rohingya population from Arakan. Let us examine this unjust nationality law.

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