Since the early days of colonial rule the issues regarding minorities have been prominent. Even today the issues regarding minorities have been grabbing headlines in countries like India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. A minority group can be classified into religious minority, caste minority, language etc. A minority group is basically a group who is not well represented in the total population. When an issue such as minority, religious issues enter into the political scenario and it involves the state then such transforms into what we call “communal problem”. This article will shed light on the religious strife going on in Myanmar between the Rohingya Muslims and the Rakhine Buddhists. The Rakhine Buddhist is the majority in Myanmar and since time immemorial they have been inflicting inhuman attacks on the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The Rohingya’s living in Arakan or what is now known as Rakhine state, are seen to be illegal Bengali immigrants despite their heritage dating back to the 8th Century. Appearing darker in skin colour, speaking Rohingyan and practicing Islam, they failed to fit the homogenous ideology of the Buddhist military junta. It is in the southwestern province of Rakhine, which is the coastal state bordering Bangladesh where this problem arises, the conflict between the state of Burma and the Rohingya Muslim minorities. Since early 1900’s this conflict has been going on and even today we have not a found a solution for the complicated problem. There are around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas living in Burma with around 80% living in the western state of Rakhine. Most of them have been denied citizenship by the Burmese government. The United Nations considers the Rohingya one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. The origin of the Rohingya Muslims have been largely disputed, with some saying they are indigenous to the state of Rakhine also known as Arakan, in Burma and others contending they are Muslim migrants who originated in Bengal, today’s Bangladesh, and migrated to Burma during the period of British rule. The conflict between the religious community and the state of Burma started right from the times of when the world was fighting its second world war. When the war was going on an inter-communal violence had broke out between British-armed Force recruits of Rohingya and ethnic Rakhines and the region became increasingly polarized. After the war, Rohingya mujahideen founded the Mujahid party to create an autonomous Muslim state in Arakan. General Ne Win carried out military operations against them over a period of two decades, which resulted in an outflow of refugees to Bangladesh. The origins of the injustice that the Rohingya face became rooted into Burma’s infrastructure, legal and governmental systems in 1978 when General Ne Win launched Operation Naga Min (Operation Dragon King) to purge Burma of illegal foreigners. This then became the first state organized operation to systematically expel the Rohingyas. In 1982, Ne Win government enacted the citizenship law that denied Rohingya citizenship. Some of the atrocities that have been inflicted my the military juntas towards the Rohingyas since then are as follows; they have be subjugated to extortion and undue taxes, theirs rights to movement have been restricted and so did their education. They have also been restricted the right to practice their religion freely, being banned from Friday congregational prayers and celebrating major festivals and being given only pigs to sacrifice for their Qurbani festival.
The history of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is a rich one, where we see movements such as the Muhajideen separatist movement (1947-70), the Rohingya Muslim movement that started during the 1970’s and is still going on in present times. But in this article I would like to emphasize more on the recent events regarding the communal conflict between the two religious groups. A story that grabbed headlines recently transpired in the year 2012, when violence broke out after the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman. It is said that on 28th May 2012, a group of men robbed, raped and murdered the ethnic Buddhist Rakhine woman, Ma Thida Htwe, near the Kyaut Ne Maw village when she was returning home. The locals claimed the culprits to be have been Rohingya Muslims. When the incident was studied and investigated all the blame came to the minority Rohingya Muslims, this created a stir and hurt the sentiments of the minority group, which later led to bloodshed and killings. This led to what is known as the Arakan (Rakhine) state riots of 2012. The riot saw a series of conflicts primarily between the two religious groups in the northern Rakhine state though later as the riot kept spreading all Muslim communities were targeted by the Rakhine Buddhists. The riot saw the Union Government of Myanmar even declare a state of emergency in the state of Rakhine. An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced by the violence. About 2,528 houses were burned, and of those, 1,336 belonged to Rohingyas and 1,192 belonged to Rakhine. The Burmese army and police were accused of playing a leading role in targeting Rohingya through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. The aftermath of the riot was horrific as it led to most of the Muslims from Sittwe being displaced and being to move to refugee camps towards the borders of Bangladesh. Majority of the Rohingya Muslims have left Myanmar post the riot towards Malaysia. The treatment met by the Government towards the minority Rohingya community was inhumane and was not called for.
The brutality of the killings in Myanmar is reminding many experts about the genocide that occurred during the Nazi rule. Many are associating the incident to the atrocities of Rwanda. The UN Human Rights Council estimates that some 200,000 people participated in the perpetration of the Rwandan genocide, resulting in entire families being killed at one time, women raped and tortured. We can see from such comparisons where the communal problems of Myanmar lie. The Rohingya Muslims also complain about how the government of Myanmar is displacing them from their homes for economic purposes. The government shows no empathy towards them when they are displaced due to the construction of some project or the other. The economic benefits of the country weight more then the feeling of the Rohingya Muslims for the government. According to many analysts the Bodh Gaya serial bombing in July 2013 is a direct result of the communal tension in Myanmar and the prosecution of Muslims. In Myanmar the government is also following a two children policy for Rohingyas which otherwise is not applicable to the other communities in Myanmar. The Rohingyas are kept in camps and are not allowed to move out, the official documents call them as “Bengali’s”. So this all brings to the conclusion that Rohingyas are stateless people who do not feel even the slightest feeling of belongingness in their own country after 200 years.
This kind of discrimination and volatile situation will be a breeding ground for terrorism and radical thinking. This has the potential to disturb the ethnic and communal harmony of South Asia. This will also have economic consequences especially in the flow of tourism to India in the Buddhist circuits. It can also be a challenge to the security of World Heritage sites. Even Dalai Lama got a death threat recently due to his comments about the communal issues regarding Myanmar. Change needs to come from within Myanmar. Its governmental structure must reflect that which it professes to be. For that, the 1982 Citizen Law, a principal relic of the military junta’s merciless repression must be repealed, for it is from within the Parliament that ‘rule of law’ can be established. Today with Aung San Su Kyi having a position in the parliament, she can pressurize the government along with other parties for the reformation of laws, laws that discriminate the Rohingya Muslims from the majority. The communal situation existing in Myanmar needs to be settled for the betterment of the world. With topics such as religion being so sensitive we never know what such problems may lead to at the end, take of example the recent “Charlie Hebdo” incident that incited many Muslims to stand up and protest against the treatment met to their religion by the world community. Ultimately the most notable aspect of a democracy is not so much their treatment of the majority, but in fact their treatment of their voiceless minority groups. And this is an aspect that does not fall short of the rest of the ‘free’ world.