There are two things about the Rohingya issue that struck me. One, the response of the central government in the Supreme Court that Rohingya refugees are a national security threat. In its 15-page affidavit, the Home Ministry has said in court that "Many of the Rohingyas figure in suspected sinister designs of ISI/IS and other extremist groups who want to achieve their ulterior motives in India, including that of flaring up communal and sectarian violence in sensitive areas." Second, the very same day, the special cell of the Delhi police arrested one Samiuddin Rahman. His arrest was not sensational. What was sensational was the disclosure by the police that he was an Al-Qaida operative and "was setting up base in Delhi, Mizoram and Manipur to radicalize and recruit Rohingya refugees to wage war against India and fight the Myanmar army." I refuse to believe that both the incidents are any way linked to each other but the coincidence is spectacular and reads like a fascinating story.
It is true that Rohingya Muslims are up in arms against their own government in Myanmar and fighting a battle in the Rakhine province. They have an organisation which indulges in violence against the state and the Buddhist majority. The Myanmar government terms them a terrorist organisation and has unleashed a lethal persecution of the Rohingya population, creating a humanitarian crisis and loss of thousands of human lives. The bulk of them have fled the country of their origin and taken shelter in India, Bangladesh and other places, but till now, I had not heard of these refugees being a part of any larger global terrorist design or that they had done in other countries something that raised a question mark about their intent.
What is true about them is the fact that despite living in Myanmar since 1200 AD, they have been denied citizenship rights by subsequent Myanmar governments. Myanmar, which was earlier called Burma, was part of India under British rule. In 1947, like India, it got independence and became a free nation. When the proponent of Pakistan, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, propagated the two-nation theory and demanded a separate country for Indian Muslims, Burmese Muslims did not find any favour with the Muslim league. It is surprising that despite fighting for a separate nation on the basis of religion, Jinnah and advocates of Pakistan did not include Rohingya Muslims in their scheme of things. Rohingya Muslims then were organised under the umbrella organisation named the Arakan Muslim League and wanted to merge with the East Pakistan which later became Bangladesh. Since then, they have been fighting for their identity and existence.
After forming the government in 1948, the government has denied minority Rohingya Muslims rights of citizens, and under the Union Citizenship Act, they were only allowed an identity card. This was also reserved only for families that could prove that they had lived there for two generations by then. Their situation further deteriorated in 1962 when the new military government took over and made it compulsory for all its citizens to have a national registration card, but Rohingya Muslims were literally bracketed as foreigners. They were issued foreign Identity Cards that meant they were excluded from the Myanmar society and state with very limited access to education and other facilities. This status continued even after the formation of new citizenship laws in 1982. They could not find a place in the state that recognised 132 ethnic groups. It was also stated in law that only those who could procure proof that they had been living in Myanmar since 1948 could become a citizen, which was an impossible task for them, and Rohingya Muslims literally became homeless in their own country.
It is also true that a section of the Buddhist citizenry has not forgiven Rohingya for their exercise to align with East Pakistan at the time of independence. Their leaders spread hatred and venom against Muslim minorities. They are against their presence in Myanmar, forcing them to live in ghettos in the most inhuman conditions. The state is openly supporting them. It conspired with militant Buddhists to execute a plan to send Rohingya Muslims to a third country in 2012 that led to unprecedented violence and massacre. A shaken global community called this genocide, but President Thein Sein and militant Buddhist nationalist leader Ashin Wirathu remained unrepentant. Wirathu attracted a lot of international attention. Time magazine put him on the cover with a comment - "The Face of Buddhist Terror". He is known for his vitriolic hate and provocative speeches against Muslims.
To escape "systematic violence", Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee in thousands. In fact they are dubbed the "Boat People". They have taken refuge in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, India and the United States. Except India, all other countries have looked at them sympathetically and provided them shelter. Malaysia and Indonesia were initially reluctant, but later they agreed to take care of them from a humanitarian point of view. India had also received around 40,000 such refugees and is now preparing grounds to deport them in the name of national security. These refugees are living in the most pitiable conditions but are not willing to go back to their homeland for fear of their lives.
The BJP government's stand on the issue is not in concurrence with India's great tradition and international standing. India has always stood by refugees. When Sri Lankan Tamils fled from their native land during the civil war in the '90s, it was India who came to their rescue. Though it is true that it did create problems in certain areas of Tamil Nadu, India did not flinch an inch. In the same way, India stood by Tibetans led by the Dalai Lama after the Chinese repression in 1959. India not only hosted the Tibetan government in exile in McLeod Ganj but also made other arrangements for them. Similarly, in 1971, when the Pakistan army terrorised the Bangladesh population, it fled in lakhs, and it was India who not only provided shelter but also fought for them. The Indian army most heroically defeated the Pakistan army and created Bangladesh. In comparison to Bangladesh refugees, the Rohingya Muslims are far smaller in number and India can easily afford their existence on its territory. In the great Hindu tradition, if anyone seeks refuge, a Hindu is not only duty-bound to provide shelter but also fight for his life. The biggest example is that of Ram giving asylum to Vibhishana, Ravana's estranged brother, and then anointing him the king of Lanka after killing Ravana.
The BJP government's policy and its affidavit is a betrayal of Indian ethos. It does not add to India's glory internationally. It also does not behoove the stature of a country who aspires to be a future superpower and, in Modi's word, a "Vishwa Guru"
(the world leader). Unfortunately, the BJP government is inspired by the philosophy of the RSS, whose second chief M S Golwalkar writes in his book, Bunch of Thoughts
, while questioning the patriotism of Indian Muslims and Christians - "Do they feel it a duty to serve her? No! Together with the change in their faith, gone is the spirit of love and devotion for the nation."
The country's foreign policy and national policy could not be and should not be the prisoner of any particular ideology, be it left or right. This is the time to tell the whole world that India stands for humanity and universal values of brotherhood and compassion.(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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