Monday 12 December 2011

“I Have never heard the name Rohingya” – Xenophobia or Racism!

Source from Kaladan Press, 8 December 2011

by Abid Bahar Ph.D.
Well, the above can’t be my statement. Those of you, who know me, know I have been working with the Rohingya people and on Burma for the past 31 years. So I have heard the name “Rohingya” many times. But surprisingly some Burmese people, who lived with the Rohingya people in Arakan and in Burma all their lives are of the claim that they have never heard of the name "Rohingya. It is as if saying “I have never met my brother, I have never seen my sister or even saying I have never seen my neighbor;” It sounds strange to me but not funny. Such assertion about an ethnic group aimed at intentionally ignoring them because you dislike them is called xenophobia, fear of the stranger. When Rohingyas as Burmese are made into strangers by the Rakhine gentlemen like Aye Kyaw, Aye Chan and the monk Ashin Nayaka, it is more than xenophobia; it is racism. It is a matter of extreme intolerance: an idea that also goes against even Buddhism.
What is behind all this?

1. Burma is a huge country with more than 130 ethnic groups. Rohingyas are not included within them by the military government and their collaborators because the xenophobe’s assertion that they entered Burma after 1825 when the British occupied Arakan.
How is this possible? The recently arrived Rohingya refugees from Arakan show some of them are not even as old as 5 years to enter Burma in 1825? Strange logic indeed, against some people’s birth rights. Well, the real story is Rohingyas as the Arakani Muslims are racially and religiously different from the racially Asian and religiously Buddhist Arakani and the Burmese majority population. The Karen Christians also have similar problems in Burma because of their religious differences. There you go!

2. The fact is Arakan had an Indian kingdom first Hindu, later on Mohayana Buddhist (See the history of Mohamuni of Buddha statue now in Mandalay, see in the research work of Martin Smith "Muslim Rohingya of Burma, 1995). About Buddhism, this is similar to Mohayana Buddhism in Bengal of the time. The Rakhines (also known as the Moghs, identified in British history) took their official name Rakhine during the 40′s was recorded in history (not in Aye Kwaw’s proto-history) to have entered Arakan with Theravada Buddhism in the 10th century, much later than Rohingya Muslim’s arrival in Arakan in the 8th century.
Where did all these people called Arakani Muslims go who began to settle in Arakan from the 8th century?
Where did the decedents of the soldiers of Wali Khan and Shandhi Khan who married with the local women in the 15th century go? This Muslim army of 30,000 by Wali Khan and 40, 000 by Sindkhan went to Arakan to help the Arakani king settled in the Kaladan valley. Where did the decedents of the captured Bengalis forcefully brought to Arakan by the Portuguese in the 15th century to work in agricultural lands go?
Well, they were all there settled in all over Arakan. But after the 1942 Arakani Muslim genocide most of the Arakani Muslims began to retreat to the north of Arakan called the Mayu frontier area and the Rakhines feeling unsafe began to settle in the north settled in the South; some Rohingyas from 1942 even began to cross to Bangladesh. Then the situation was made more complicated when the British identified all the Arakani Muslims as being the Indian Muslims this was because India and Burma were under the one British Empire. However, in 1937 Burma was separated from India and the Arakani Muslims’ were seen as “foreigners,” and their fate was allotted with the Burmese Buddhist majority country.

To avoid the anti-foreigner movement that first began in Rangoon by Ottama, an Arakani reactionary monk, Rohingya leaders began to separate their British labeled identity (of being the Indian immigrant Muslims settled in Rangoon.)to their indigenous identity. In order to do that they officially adapted an existing Burmese name called the "Rohingya” used by the Arakani Muslims for themselves before Britain occupied Arakan. The leaders officially adapted the name during the 50′s.That was a smart move by the Rohingyas but to the military and the xenophobes, it was another excuse to attack the victim; the Rohingya. It had turned out to be another excuse as if like in the wolf vs. lamb story of blaming the victim. The naming provided the military and the xenophobes the excuse that Burmese people have never heard of the name "Rohingya." "They must be "Bengalis"” immigrant” "Kula" and thus the contemporary anti-Rohingya propaganda began.

3. Surprisingly, the name "Rohingya" was heard by Francis Buchanan in 1798 in Burma, recorded in Francis Buchanan, in Southeast Bengal (1798): His Journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Comilla, (Dhaka: Dhaka University Press, 1992), 82. It is true, Rohingyas look more like the Bengalis across the border from Burma but, Jacques Leider calls Arakan a "frontier culture." And it is true, Rohingyas are as if the Shans of Burma who have their Thai cousins across the border. But that doesn’t make Rohingyas non Burmese.

4. No wonder, there are still some Rakhine Burmese people in Arakan says "We have never heard the name "Rohingya." Well, my question to a xenophobe Burmese who says " I have never heard of the word "Rohingya," question #1 Did you hear the news of Rohingya exodus of 1978 when 200,000 Rohingyas were forced out from Burma who were carrying NRC (national Registration Cards) because as a researcher I personally verified their NRC cards in refugee camps in Ukiya Bangladesh. Burmese government was forced to take back Rohingyas due to the pressure from international body because Rohingyas were carrying official documents. (b). did you also hear that in 1982 Burmese military government through a constitutional Act officially denied Rohingyas’s Burmese citizenship? (c) Did you hear that in the 1991-92 there was another huge Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh? This time Burma made sure that Rohingyas don’t carry any NRC.
Are you still confused? If you are still not sure about the name “Rohingya,” it is your problem because you are most likely not informed of your country; in that case I can not help your ignorance.

Worst of all if you as a xenophobe are acting strangely, it is called hypocrisy. In that case, if you are a citizen of Burma, you are intentionally keeping yourself ignorant, so that you can pretend, surely then you are a charlatan.

But if you are promoting this pretension saying "I have never heard the name Rohingya," they must be foreigners," and you are helping the military to exterminate them, and let me tell you, even if you have deserted a Burmese government job in a foreign embassy and is now a powerful democracy movement leader in USA or in UK, it is true, you are more likely to be a double agent, a war criminal that demands to be investigated and exposed to the world.

Why is it important to identify this type of assertions? Because in saying “I have never heard of the word Rohingya before" some leaders of Burma deny a people’s birth rights, and help the military to exterminate them.
Strangely, it is some opportunist Arakanese Rakine gentleman pumped up in prejudice, posing as the devoted democracy movement leaders in everywhere, do everything to block Rohingya leader’s participation in Burma’s ethnic nationalities’ programs quietly asserting the statement " I have never heard of the name Rohingya."

But revolutionaries are not shy people. They know the difference between democracy-lovers and the reactionaries. As a matter of duty to Burma’s democracy movement and particularly to discourage the growth of xenophobia, reactionaries and their pretensions in Burma, by seemingly responsible people should be brought to public attention. In the meantime, Rohingyas continue to leave Arakan. FIDH International Federation of Human Rights says:
The …exodus is a deep, sustained trickle of low visibility. The Rohingyas progressively leave Burma in small groups, families or individuals…. Little by little, the population is being forced to leave Arakan because of a deliberate policy of cleansing.”
In that situation an observer lately commented about the Rohingya situation "The life of a refugee is like a football, kicking from bar to bar. One goal bar is on the soil of east Naff River and another is west Naff River. The Naff River is a football ground."

The international community should know that those people in the democracy movement leadership who receive huge donations from Western democracies in the name of promoting democracy in Burma are tolerating the military’s exclusion of the Rohingyas from Burmese citizenship; in the name of democracy they are tolerating and some even promoting racism in Burma. One Aye Chan published a book called Rohingyas as the “Influx Viruses.” The book was forwarded by Monk Ashin Nayaka. For the international community, in addition to sanction grants, there is much to be done to promote democracy in Burma.

(The text is adapted from Abid Bahar’s book: Burma’s Missing Dots, 2009, Chapter 12)

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