Alaul, the great Bengali poet of Padmavati, was the court poet of medieval Arakan (rechristened as Rakhaine State) with Magan Thakur as his patron.
Now, juxtapose this historical fact with the Myanmerese claim that the Rohingyas are illegal Muslim settlers in their land, chiefly brought by the British colonial rulers as labourers. What an anachronism!
What a twisting of fact! I request the readers just to compare the two time spans- Magan Thakur’s premiership and the British colonial rule in the sub-continent.
The Rohingyas have been living, as is manifest from the above historical fact, in Arakan for centuries. Arakan has been very closely connected with Chittagong because of geographical proximity and kinship of the people on both sides of the river Naf.
This close tie has been rendered immortal in the nomenclature of the Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar highway- previously it was known as Arakan Road. This road also bears the memories of the Mughal prince Shah Shuja as well. The prince fled to Arakan following this route to avoid capture and persecution by his brother. Hence, the Arakan Road was also known as Shah Shuja Road.
I furnish all of these historical facts only to prove the inanity of the Myanmar claim that the Rohingyas are illegal settlers brought by the British rulers.
How could the British colonizers bring the Rohingyas to Arakan as their existence pre-date the advent of the Britons here? True, the colonizers took some labourers there to work in their plantations, logging sites etc. But they were from undivided Bengal (not from Bangladesh alone) and hence the Myanmar authorities should rectify their allegations when they refer to the Rohingyas as illegal Muslim settlers from Bangladesh. Moreover, in the composition of the Rohingyas, there are Hindu and Barua segments as well (with Muslim predominance).
Even if we accept the Myanmar claim that the Rohingyas were taken to Arakan by the British rulers as their menials, this means that they have been living there for the last two centuries. Is this not enough for an ethnic group to achieve the entitlement to live as citizens in a country? Take, for example, the case of the Indian workers taken to Trinidad, Tobago Fiji etc. as indentured labourers.
Are the millions of descendants of those Indian settlers being expelled by the Caribbean Islands? Are they being persecuted, marginalized and evicted? Rather, they are enjoying all the privileges of full citizenship in those island nations. Think of Fiji.
Mahendra Chowdhury, whose roots are in India rose to premiership of Fiji. The country’s economy is dominated by the businessmen of Indian descent. Have a glimpse at Mauritius. Navinchandra Ramgoolam, the son of an Indian indentured labourer, crowned the prime ministerial position of the country.
The descendants of Indian workers enjoy such a congenial atmosphere that Hindi has been declared as one of the official languages of Mauritius. If Indians were persecuted, could Mauritius emerge as the second Bollywood? How can we forget the case of West Indies?
Have a look at the cricket team of West Indies- you see the vibrant presence of Indian origin players. If they were discriminated against, could the world know such names as Shivnarayan Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Devendra Bishu et al? If they were quarantined like the Rohingyas, how could the world get a fascinating writer like V.S. Naipaul?
How could Trinidad and Tobago get a unique Prime Minister like Kamala Prasad? From West Indies let us cast our glance at Suriname and Guyana. The same British rulers took the Indians there.
The Surinamese government has conferred the status of official language on Hindi.
The Surinamese have so far elected an Indian (Radhakishun Pretaapnaraian) as the Prime Minister and another (Ram Sardjoe) as the Vice-President of their country. And what about South Africa? The case is well known for the association of Mahatma Gandhi.
The descendants of Indian ‘coolies’ have regular representation in the South African governments. For example, there are seven members of Indian origin in the cabinet of Jacob Zuma. And why should Myanmar be oblivious of its AEAN brothers Malaysia and Singapore?
The Tamils, everyone knows, are not bhumiputras in Malaysia. Lord Clive’s compatriots took the Tamils as plantation workers in the country. Has Malaysia deported the Tamils to India with the departure of the British?
Today, the Tamils in Malaysia constitute approximately 8% of the total population with equal entitlements to all state facilities. They do not have to report the birth of a child to the nearest army camp like the Rohingyas as the Malaysian government, unlike its Burmese counterpart, is not apprehensive of the ghost of demographic change. The Malaysians today recognize Samy Vellu, member of the Tamil diaspora, as one of the founding fathers of their country.
The Tamil diaspora is equally present in Singapore with visible representation in the government. Two Indians, Sellapan Ramanathan and Devan Nair, were laurelled with the presidential post of Singapore. In the Western countries, if you stay for five to ten years with valid papers, you can become a naturalized citizen.
Even if you do not have valid papers, you do have the scope to get PR status if you apply through proper channel. There are, of course, additional options for refugees and asylum seekers. Are not the Myanmar authorities familiar with these modern, civilized practices?
In the West only 5-10 years stay can open the avenue of naturalization for you whereas, the Rohingyas living for centuries in Arakan are being maltreated as illegal intruders.
Is Myanmar outside the ken of the civilized world? Does it not belong to planet earth? If it belongs, why does it inflict state-sponsored terrorism on the most backward ethnic minority group in the modern world?
How can the presidential office of Myanmar overtly pronounce that ‘the Rohingyas are not like us and hence we would not tolerate them in Myanmar’?
Does not this kind of announcement from the top office of a country remind us of the jungle law? Can any responsible country disown any ethnic group as they are unlike the core community? What if the Americans, the Canadians, the Europeans or Australians declare the Asians as intolerable ‘the Other’ and deport them?
What if Bangladesh declares that as the tribal people of CHT and Rakhaines of Cox’s Bazar are unlike the mainstream community and they should go to Myanmar because of their mongoloid features?
Cross-migration in border areas is a common global phenomenon and the sooner the Myanmar authorities realize this, the better for humanity and regional peace.
Just take into consideration the fringe communities of Bangladesh and India. We have a Khasia community in Sylhet with the majority of that community living in the adjoining Indian state of Meghaloy. As the major segments of the Khasias are the citizens of India, can Bangladesh expel them?
Do not we have a Manipuri community with the core portion of that ethnic group residing in India? Are the Bangladeshi people and security forces inflicting arson, loot and torture on the Tripuras as their race name testifies that they have their roots in the Indian state of Tripura?
More important still, Bangladesh has a Burmese community in Cox’s Bazar, Teknaf and Bandarban. The Burmese community, known as the Rakhaines, enjoys full freedom as the citizens of Bangladesh.
The Burmese Market, located in the heart of Cox’s Bazar town and the pagodas speak volumes in favour of the prestigious status that this ethnic group enjoys in Bangladesh.
Has Bangladesh ever barbarously declared that as the Rakhaines in Bangladesh have their roots in the Rakahine state (erstwhile Arakan) they should go back there?
Rather the Bangladesh government has done every thing possible so that these people do not get marginalized. Think of the district of Bandarban (adjoining to Myanmar). The parliamentary seat of the district has been virtually reserved for the ethnic group since the inception of Pakistan. Flat nose and mongoloid features have not barred Aung Shu Pru, Mong Shu Pru, Jerry Chy, Mama Ching et al to be elected as parliament members of Bangladesh. Zia, Ershad, Khaleda and Hasina, none of these leaders of Bangladesh did show any reservation in the inclusion of Burmese-looking men in their cabinets.
The Rohingyas of Myanmar, on the other hand, do not have the ambition to be parliament members or ministers of Myanmar. They just want to stay in their ancestral homes. They cannot afford to nurture the luxury of gracing any administrative, diplomatic or military position in Myanmar as their counterparts in Bangladesh are enjoying.
They just want to live in their home for centuries and continue tilling their land as their predecessors did. Is it a tall demand?
Successive governments of Bangladesh have done much for the Rohingyas. We still have many refugee camps in Teknaf being supervised by the UNHCR.
Many of these refugees have been living in Bangladesh for the last four decades. Many Rohingyas as they can go incognito among the Bangladeshis because of almost identical language and physique, have settled in different parts of Bangladesh. Many have dispersed globally using Bangladeshi passports.
The Rohingya setters have created immense pressure on our scanty resources. Most of the peripheral hilly regions of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar have become colonies of the Myanmerese evictees. This has incurred serious ecological impact (adverse, of course) on Bangladesh.
Consequently, Bangladesh had to reverse its stance on the Rohingyas in the latest exodus. Our heart aches when we see helpless Rohingyas being tossed in the tumultuous sea with their tiny boats. The rainy weather could not extinguish the all-consuming flames of racist hatred.
The blood-thirsty Rakahine arsonists and murderous security forces of Myanamr rendered many Rohingyas homeless overnight. Being driven away by the Rakahines, they came to the shores where a tempestuous sea extended aquatic welcome to them- a real life Scylla and Charybdis situation.
Despite strong vigilance some Rohingyas slipped into Bangladesh and at least got humanitarian treatment at he hands of Bangladesh border forces. International communities have been pressurizing Bangladesh to open its border for the Rohingyas.
But is that the solution to the problem? We kept our borders open for them for the last four decades- in this period the situation has gone from bad to worse. Should not the international community create pressure on Myanmar?
How can Myanmar defy the concerted international pressure? The mysterious silence of the Dalai lama, Aung Sun Su Kye and Dr. Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winning trio, on the massacre in Arakan is utterly frustrating.
The Mona Lisa like role of OIC is even more disheartening. But, as the saying goes, better late than never. If the ASEAN, SARRC, OIC and the UN put a rein to the unacceptable practices of Myanmar, peace would be restored in Arakan. If the international bodies give a deadline to Myanmar to improve the situation in Arakan and if it fails to comply and conform to the international guideline, the UN should send peace-keeping forces to save the ‘mute insiders’ of Myanmar.
Sarwar Morshed is Assistant Professor in Department of English, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh.