More than 123,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed over to Bangladesh from Myanmar, a pre-dominantly Buddhist country, since August 25 alleging persecution by their own government. According to media reports, more than 30,000 Rohingyas are still trapped in hilly terrain of Myanmar’s northern state of Rakhine without basic supplies of food, water or medicine. Most of them are believed to be women, children and elderly people. And the silence of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state councillor and de facto leader, over the “forcible” migration of Rohingyas has left the world community bewildered.
In fact, the Rohingyas are fleeing Myanmar for last many years. More than 400,000 have crossed over to Bangladesh in recent years while around 40,000 of them are staying in India. Some of them have also fled to various parts of Europe.
In 2013, the United Nations described them as one of the most persecuted communities in the world.
Interestingly, Hindus from Myanmar have joined streams of Muslim Rohingyas to seek refuge in Bangladesh after the killing of 86 people from their community in the ethnic violence in Myanmar.
According to Bangladeshi officials, 500 Hindus arrived in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar, bordering Myanmar, along with tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims amid escalated violence at home.
Who are these Rohingyas and why are they fleeing Myanmar?
The term “Rohingya” represents a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that lives in Rakhine state of Myanmar that corresponds to the historical Kingdom of Arakan.The term comes from Rakhanga or Roshanga, the words for the state of Arakan. The word Rohingya means "inhabitant of Rohang", which was the early Muslim name for Arakan.
According to some scholars, though Muslims have been living in Arakan for a long time, the term Rohingya was coined by descendants of Bengalis in the 1950s who had migrated into Arakan during British regime. In local terminology, Rohingyas are Bengali Muslims who live in Arakan State.
While the Rohingyas have charged the government of Myanmar with indulging in “ethnic cleansing” of their community by persecuting them , Naypyitaw has accused them of attacking civilians, police posts and security personnel forcing them to take counter-measures.
According to Myanmar government, the recent violence started after Rohingya militants killed 12 security officers in border post attacks on August 25. On August 25, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), attack on security forces by a Rohingya insurgent group, allegedly killed 12 soldiers and policemen. According to Myanmar government, the ARSA is forcing young Rohingya men and boys to stay behind and assist in further attacks. Rohingya Muslim militants armed with machetes launched attacks on 24 police posts as well as an army base that triggered the retaliation by the Myanmar security forces.
The international media has compared the conditions of Rohingya with “apartheid”. However, the trust deficit between the Rohingyas and the Myanmar government has existed for a very long period and it goes back to the 1940s when the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state wanted the region to merge with the East Pakistan. Muslim leaders from Arakan asked for Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s assistance in incorporating the region to Pakistan considering their religious affinity and geographical proximity with East Pakistan. However, the proposal was turned down by Jinnah who said that he was not in a position to interfere into Burmese matters.
More than 1 million Rohingya Muslims live in Myanmar but it’s a fact that they are looked upon as illegal immigrants despite the fact that they have lived in the area for generations. Some of them enjoy the status of full citizens but they hold temporary national identification cards known as white cards.
Interestingly, they were permitted to cast their votes in 2008 referendum to approve Myanmar’s military-drafted constitution. Some of them were also elected to the Myanmar parliament. They also exercised their franchise in the 2010elections. However, the Rohingya Muslims were disenfranchised in 2015 elections that brought Aung San Suu Kyi to power.
The Narendra Modi government’s decision to deport 40,000 Rohingya Muslims, who are living in India, has been challenged in the Supreme Court by two Rohingya immigrants and noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan appeared in the apex court on their behalf.
Prashant Bhushan sought an assurance from the central government that during the pendency of the petition, the Centre will not take any step including deportation of the immigrants. However, the Additional Solicitor General refused to make any such commitment in this regard. The matter has been posted for hearing on September 11 and the apex court has asked the centre to make its stand clear on the subject.
It should be recalled that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on August 18 had issued a notice to the Centre over its plan to deport the Rohingya immigrants.
Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, has also urged fellow laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn the "tragic and shameful treatment" of Rohingya Muslims.
"Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same," Yousafzai said.
"The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting, " she added.