Rohingyas : Then and Now

Rohingya: there was a time when social media was buzzing with this term, when newspapers made it their headlines, and photographers won awards for capturing their plight. A year later, it is understood that all the ‘money marketing’ behind the Rohingya refugee crisis was successful only in terms of generating sympathy, and not empathy; it has been a year since this issue was first brought to international attention and almost everyone seems to have forgotten and moved on. The issue was pushed into the limelight when India decided to deport Rohingyas. But what was the story before that? What made these people leave their own country?

Rohingyas belong to the Sunni Muslim community of Rakhine state of Myanmar who have not been given citizenship status in their native country of Myanmar. The invalid (and possibly even foolish) reason stated for this segregation is that Rohingyas are not the native inhabitants of Myanmar but instead came to the country during the colonial era. Due to this sole reason, the community has faced discrimination fuelled by communal tension between Rohingyas and the Buddhist community of Myanmar. As a result, the community is pushed to the periphery, and quite literally so – Rohingyas are always supposed to restrict themselves to Rakhine state.

The refugee crisis began with the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman in a Rohingya-dominated locality. Communal tension paved the way for the formation of terrorist groups and the most prominent among them is Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The activities of these groups encourage people to turn their backs to Rohingyas when they ask for shelter, believing that every Rohingya is a terrorist. But punishing the whole community for the mistakes of a few is not only inhumane, but also terribly illogical.

Regardless, Rohingyas were eventually forcefully driven out of the country. Thus they started fleeing Myanmar to other, neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, and India. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime minister of Bangladesh is facing a dilemma because on one hand the number of refugees is increasing, and on the other hand resources in the country are rapidly declining. Closer to home, India’s reaction to the refugee crisis has been shocking, especially for a country which boasts about its culture; prominent among its many teachings are the concepts of vasudeiva kudumbakam (the whole world is my family), and aditi devo bhava (my guest is equal to God). But when it came to Rohingyas, India did not practice the same philosophy. The country that has always supported and stood for the cause of refugees seems to be turning its back to the suffering of Rohingyas. Many would argue that a government that divides its citizens based on religion and caste, nothing else can be expected of it.

Rohingyas were first declared ‘illegal immigrants’ involved in ‘illegal acts’ by Home Minister Kiren Rijiju, following which the decision to deport all of them from India was announced. Later, on the 14th of September 2017, the government launched Operation Insaniyat to provide relief assistance for relief camps in Bangladesh. India has been trying to maintain the balance between Myanmar and Bangladesh while at the same time trying to tackle the issue of Rohingyas in its own country. The refugees have stated that they will go back to their own country only if they are given the citizenship of Myanmar along with safety and security.

The issue of Rohingyas is very relevant to India because of its status as one of the biggest nations in South Asia; its decision will definitely affect its relationship with Bangladesh, Myanmar, and even China, who is playing a lead role between Bangladesh and Myanmar. At the ground level, more empathy needs to be shown to the millions of people who remain in dingy refugee camps. People rarely ever think about what their fellow human beings will eat and drink as long as their own stomachs are filled with food. It’s high time we started thinking of the future of Rohingyas more empathetically, simply because they are human beings who deserve a happy life.

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