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THE ROHINGYA REFUGEE CRISIS
By Rey Ty — holds a Ph. D. in Human Rights and Peace Education, Thailand.
This article focuses on a case study of the extremist actions of militant Buddhists who violate the rights of entire civilian populations of other religions in Myanmar. The goal is to question the popular stereotype of all Buddhists as promoters of unconditional peace and to examine the Rohingya refugee crisis. The text begins with an overview of the historical and current contexts that gave rise to the Rohingya crisis, after which a discussion of the causes and effects of the problem is presented. It concludes by presenting the proposed agenda to solve the refugee crisis besetting the Rohingya.
There are many problems related to statelessness and refugees in Asia, such as the current tensions in Assam, India, along the Myanmar-Thailand border, and the ones affecting the Rohingya in Myanmar, to name a few. Muslim-majority Rohingyas have been living in the Rakhine State for as long as they, their parents, their grandparents, and their great grandparents can remember. Their land is between Bangladesh, to the west, and the rest of Myanmar, to the east. Myanmar, as the country is known today, is home to a multiplicity of ethnicities, religions, and languages.
Many westerners come to Asia to learn about Buddhism and Hinduism, joining Buddhist Vipassana meditation retreats and practicing Hindu yoga. With their romanticised and Orientalised views of Asia,2 many westerners convert to Buddhism and Hinduism. When asked about the reasons for their conversion, they invariably answer because these two are religions of peace which allow them to find serenity towards themselves and tranquility in relation to the universe. True, the tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism deal with social and universal concord. However, when confronted with the fact that extremist Buddhists, including incitements from prominent Buddhist monks, attack Muslims and Hindus in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, that Hinduism is built on the basis of a caste system under which the Dalits and the Adivasis or indigenous peoples are outcasts, and that extremist Hindus attack Dalits, Muslims, and Christians, these same westerners turn a blind eye and a deaf ear on these acts of oppression and repression.
They ignore the fact that Hinduism is built on the foundation of the structural violence of the caste system under which the Dalits or “outcasts” and the Adivasis or indigenous peoples are marginalised. For millennia, Hindu widows had the duty to perform sati or to immolate themselves by throwing themselves on their husband’s fiery funeral pyre, thus dying a slow and excruciating death. A 1987 law banned the practice of sati but isolated cases of widow immolation continue. Up to the present time, Dalit men swim into sewage to clear clogs, while Dalit women collect human excrements by hand in public latrines, even though this practice is banned.
In their effort to impose Hindutva, or Hindu ultranationalism as the term is understood today, fanatical Hindu “cow police” monitor, attack and sometimes even kill Christians and Muslims who sell or eat beef. There is a cognitive dissonance between the reality of Buddhists’ and Hindus’ aggressive attacks on people of other faiths on the one hand and the romanticised, idealistic views of Buddhism and Hinduism as philosophies that promote total peace and universal harmony on the other hand. Note, however, that the problem is not religion per se, but the political use of religion. This article focuses on a case study of the extremist actions of militant Buddhists who violate the rights of entire civilian populations of other religions in Myanmar. The goal is to question the popular stereotype of all Buddhists as promoters of unconditional peace and to examine the Rohingya refugee crisis. This article begins with an overview of the historical and current contexts that gave rise to the Rohingya crisis, after which a discussion of the causes and effects of the problem is presented. It concludes by presenting the proposed agenda to solve the refugee crisis besetting the Rohingya.
As this crisis is still brewing, there is still a gap in academic journals on this matter, which this article seeks to fill. Most of the literature cited here is from news media outlets, such as The Atlantic, BBC, Democracy Now, El Diario, Frontline PBS, The Guardian, El Mundo, NPR, El País, The New York Times, and the Washington Post, to name a few. Insider views from Myanmar are also cited, including publications in English, such as The Irrawaddy.
Piecing together snapshots from news releases to form a coherent narrative of the saga of the Rohingya mass exodus, the central focus of this paper was the major events surrounding the refugee crisis which took place in 2017, while looking back at the historical context that led to this situation and synthesising the main proposals to solve this refugee crisis.