By Dr. Jyotika Teckchandani
Dr. Jyotika Teckchandani is presently working as an Assistant Professor in Amity Institute of Social Sciences, Amity University, Noida. She is the author of the book “ Islam and Gender Politics in Iran” and “State and Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Khomeini Era (1979-89). Dr. Jyotika has contributed a number of articles in academic journals of repute and newspapers including Indian Journal of Secularism, Journal of West Asian Studies, Quest International Multidisciplinary Research Journal, International Education and Research Journal , Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research, International Journal of Advanced Research, The Pioneer, Hardnews, Leaders News, and The Quint.
Rohingyas: The world’s most persecuted minorities
Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim group who have lived in Myanmar since the 12th century. They speak Rohingya or Ruaingga a dialect which is spoken in the Rakhine state. It is one of the poorest states in Myanmar, with no basic amenities and almost 78% of the population living beyond the poverty line. Rohingyas are not a part of Myanmar’s 135 ethnic groups (national races) and are denied citizenship according to Myanmar’s Citizenship Act of 1982. The Myanmar government denies the existence of Rohingyas. They are known as “Bengalis” and are considered to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The Rohingyas face restriction of movement, marriage restriction (they can acquire permission to marry only after paying bribes), exclusion from health care and education, enforced birth control, forced labour, restrictions on the purchase of property etc. Their houses are burnt, women gang-raped, and men and children killed, beaten, tortured and forced to leave their houses. The persecution on the Rohingyas amounts to genocide, a claim which is denied by the Myanmar government. These targeted assaults on Rohingyas have caused them to flee to countries such as India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia etc.
Denial of citizenship
There are three classes of citizens under Myanmar’s citizenship laws, and they are provided with colour coded scrutiny cards accordingly. Full citizens are issued pink cards. They are people who belong to one of the national races like Kachin, Kayah Karenni, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan, Kaman, or Zerbadee. Associate citizens are issued blue cards. If a person cannot provide evidence that his ancestors settled in Burma before 1823, he or she can be classified as an associate citizen if one grandparent, or pre-1823 ancestor, was a citizen of another country. Naturalised citizens are issued green cards. In order to acquire this most basic form of citizenship, there must be proof that the person’s family lived in Myanmar prior to 1948 and the person must be fluent in the national language. This is problematic for the Rohingyas as they are denied proof of residence.
Recent events and India’s stance
Recently, violence broke out on 25th August 2017 when militants (Arakan Salvation Army) attacked the government forces. The group has said it attacked the Myanmar military and police to protest the mistreatment of the Rohingya and seek full citizenship rights for them. In response, the Tatmadaw – the armed forces started a clearance operation throughout the area. This violence has prompted over 379,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. This action has been described as “A textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.
With the development of the Rohingya crisis, India is caught between its two eastern neighbours, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Apart from balancing diplomacy between these two countries, the Indian Government is also seized with the matter of security implications arising out of the influx of Rohingya in the region. This presents a unique dilemma of prioritising national security and fulfilling diplomatic obligations towards Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Traditionally, India has backed the Burmese position on the Rohingya issue. This means that the Indian government has ignored the massacres of Rohingyas by the Burmese authority, partly to pacify Burma and prevent them from falling prey to Chinese influence.Myanmar has been strategically important for the future construction of a gas pipeline linking Burma, Bangladesh and the north-eastern parts of India. This probably explains why Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi spoke about the “extremist violence in Rakhine” which indirectly blames the Rohingya community for the violence caused. The PM’s statement is also directed towards the protection of India’s national security interests. There is a considerable concern within the Indian establishment that Rohingyas, being poor and illiterate, could be easily vulnerable to terrorist mechanisation, to be used against Indian interest in parts the of north-east and in the Kashmir valley.
International pressure on India
However, having made this statement, the Government of India is confronted with two immediate challenges. First, India has come under sharp criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for taking a decision to deport an estimated 40,000 Rohingyas living in different parts of the country.
The second challenge has come from Bangladesh. Bangladesh, under Sheikh Hasina’s government, has been the most important ally of India in combating the menace of Islamic terrorism and flushing out north-east based insurgency groups operating from Bangladesh. As Bangladesh is a host country to Rohingya refugees, it will definitely look towards India for diplomatic assistance during talks with the Burmese government. This has prompted India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to contact Bangladeshi officials and promise them India’s support in protection of Bangladeshi interests. Ironically, the Indian government has not confirmed this stance officially, thus leaving it to speculation. This is a partial indication of the lack of an evolved and thorough policy on the Rohingya issue.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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