Ethnic cleansing, the world should know about

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by F R Chowdhury

We all know Buddhism is based on "hatred to none and no revenge". So much so that even killing an ant is also prohibited. We always considered Buddhists as very peace loving people until the Second World War when we were shocked by the atrocities of the Japanese troops, most of whom were Buddhists. Then came the bigger shock when thousands were killed in Cambodia by Khmer Rouge, again most of them were supposed to be Buddhists. The modern day killing and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar has crossed the records set by previous atrocities.

Once upon a time (about three hundred years ago) the Kingdom of Arakan was a very prosperous region. The King wanted more people to join the economic activities and welcomed people from Chittagong region of the then India which was a densely populated. Those who emigrated to Arakan (now a part of Myanmar) were mostly Muslims though there were a few Buddhists as well. Chittagong (now a part of Bangladesh) and Arakan are close neighbours but lot of difference in their social and cultural life. Men who went to Arakan never returned because they found very obedient and hard-working women in Arakan. The Burmese men were badly addicted by drugs. This is the early history of the settlement of Bengali Muslims in Burma though during the Second World War the British Indian Army under the command of Brigadier Bill Slim took lot of civilians with them for support role. Many of these civilians stayed back in Burma.

In 1947, British left India by creating another independent country Pakistan. Eastern part of Bengal also known as East Bengal became East Pakistan. This did not alter the status-quo of the Bengali Muslims (now referred to as Rohingyas) living in Myanmar. They were happy and prosperous people in Burma. Since 1947 nothing ever happened that could cause large scale migration of people from East Pakistan or Bangladesh to Burma. It was after the military take-over in Burma in 1962 that the Burmese economy collapsed. To hide their inefficiency and corruption the military blamed the Rohingyas for all their misfortunes the same way as Idi Amin of Uganda blamed all the Indians. During the days of Pakistan Burma tried to lay claim on the island of Saint Martin but because of strong presence of Pakistan Navy they gave up their claim. 1971 saw another change, East Pakistan becoming independent Bangladesh.

Then in 1975 the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman followed by several coup and counter-coup, Bangladesh passed through a very unsettled period and the military government in Myanmar took advantage of this in pushing hundreds of Rohingyas into Bangladesh claiming them to be illegal immigrants. By then General Ziaur Rahman steadied the situation in Bangladesh and raised the matter with Myanmar Government while keeping the full military might of Bangladesh along the border with Myanmar. Myanmar had to take them back.

The military regime in Myanmar resorted to another new technique. In 1982 they introduced a new Nationality Law in which they excluded the Rohingyas. The Rakhains (Buddhists living in Arakan) were given Myanmar nationality. The Rohingyas were declared as illegal immigrants (even after staying in for almost hundred years). Restrictions were imposed on their travel, education, employment, business, land ownership, marriage and religious activities. Muslim families are not allowed to have more than two children. The military regime thought this would automatically drive the Rohingyas elsewhere for better living. This actually hardened the resolve of the Rohingyas who now started organizing things within their own community. The military regime got furious. They forced many to flee again to Bangladesh and evicted many others from their homes to take shelter in various centres to make them look like recent refugees.

Bangladesh already has over two hundred thousand Rohingyas in various camps for several years. Till today Myanmar has not agreed taking them back. Bangladesh is the world's most densely populated country. There is no way that Bangladesh can accept or integrate Rohingyas. A solution has to be found for them. They are also human being. The new generations need education, health care and job opportunities. They cannot remain in Bangladesh as a total liability for eternal period as stateless people.

The military rulers of Myanmar had to find some excuse for their misrule and poverty despite Myanmar having all the resources in the world. They came up with one solution. They identified Rohingyas as the root cause of all problems. They want to get rid of all Rohingyas to make Myanmar a pure land of Buddhists as if this will solve all their problems. In a country where most people are illiterate, the Government gained immediate cheap popularity. Now, even though Myanmar is progressively becoming democratic, the new political leaders are afraid of speaking against this policy in the fear of losing their popularity. President Thein Sein openly says that these people (Rohingyas) are not Burmese and other countries should come forward to relocate and resettle them. This is something unbelievable. He hints at Bangladesh because it is with Bangladesh the Rohingyas got the common religious link. Most of the present generation of Burmese Rohingyas got nothing to do with Bangladesh and they know no one in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is small in size, only about 55,000 sq. miles and has a population of about 150 million people. It is the most densely populated country in the world. It cannot be expected to accept refugees from other countries. Myanmar, by area is three times larger than Bangladesh. By size, Myanmar is the 40th in the world and second in South-East Asia. It has a population of about 55 million of which only 3.2% are Muslims. Only about 2.5% of the total population can be identified as Rohingyas. Myanmar has a terrible record of human right. It is right on top in respect of genocide, child labour, torture, human trafficking, slavery and rape. Now they are determined to get rid of the Rohingyas.

The Government of Myanmar has been instigating the Rakhains against the Rohingyas. The so-called ethnic violence is one sided. It is aimed at the extermination of the Muslims. Rohingyas villages are regularly burnt and their belongings looted. Once a Muslim village is under attack, there is no chance of saving any possession because any delay means coming under brush fire and death. In the name of providing security, the military and police force complete the unfinished job of killing, burning and looting. In their own country the Rohingyas have become refugees and are herded into a number of camps. Some people got into boats but no escape because Bangladesh has closed borders and refused shelter to any more Rohingyas. Anyone who wants to know more about it should watch recent TV coverage on BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera.

The Myanmar Government has refused any OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) representative to visit the country. It has also refused any discussion with ASEAN saying that it was their internal domestic matter. How long will the world remain silent spectator to all the ethnic cleansing in the Myanmar? Time has come for the civilized world to act together in a firm and decisive manner. Bangladesh is the worst sufferer of this crisis. Bangladesh supported by others must move the matter in the United Nations and every other international forum until Myanmar is compelled to give equal rights to all its citizens and grant equal protection to all. Myanmar must allow all outside agencies to visit the country to see the fate of the Rohingyas. The world must see to it that the Rohingyas are settled back in their own country Myanmar with full respect and dignity. The world community must not fail. Humanity must prevail.

by F R Chowdhury

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