In the recent past, Government of India has tried to construct an argument that Rohingyas are a security threat to the Nation. Home Ministry has tried to indicate that Rohingyas pose security challenge and are recruited by terror groups. This point has been used to state that they need to be deported. RSS chief Mohan Bagawat the ideological mouthpiece of the present regime declared that Rohingya crisis should be dealt “keeping in mind threat to national security”. It was also
pointed that they are being driven out from Myanmar for their linkages with terrorist groups.
Constructing an image of Rohingyas as a security threat while on the one hand tries to create a faulty picture and an Islamophobia around the same, on the other hand hides the victimisation of Rohingyas. The reality of Rohingyas offers a different narrative.
Rather than a threat, Rohingyas are victims of hatred in Myanmar. Rohingyas have been described as “the world’s most persecuted minority”. Though predominantly Muslims, there are also Hindus within Rohingyas. Despite Rohingyas having lived in Myanmar for centuries, they are not considered as one of the 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar deserving citizenship. They have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982. The provisions of 1982 citizenship law deny them the rights to study, work, travel and access health services. They are denied voting rights. Even if ‘naturalised’ citizenship is proved, limits are placed on them in entering professions like medicine, law or running for office.
Even before this, following Myanmar’s independence from British rule in 1948, Rohingyas were not considered as one of the ethnicity that could gain citizenship. Only those Rohingyas with proof of their two previous generations having lived in Myanmar were to be considered as its citizens. Following the 1962 Military coup, all Rohingyas were to obtain national registration cards. Rohingyas in reality only got foreign identity cards. The 1982 citizenship law delegitimized them as citizens of the country.
Rohingyas are thus effectively stateless with citizenship rights denied to them. Living in one of the poorest regions of Myanmar namely Rakhine state, they receive apartheid like treatment, living in ghetto like camps with lack of basic services and opportunities.
Being at the receiving end of the state persecution since the 1970’s, Rohingyas have been forced to flee. They are victims of human rights abuses, extra judicial killings, rape and arson. Many of their homes were also burnt during the persecution. They have fled to countries namely Saudi Arabia (2 lakhs), Bangladesh (8.9 lakhs), Pakistan (3.5 lakhs), Malaysia (1.5 lakhs), UAE (10 thousand), Thailand and Indonesia (six thousand) and India (40 thousand).
There are about 40,000 Rohingyas living in India. About 16,500 have identity cards issued by UNHCR. Rohingya refugees are living in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-NCR and Rajasthan. They are living in UNHCR supported camps and receiving relief services. They are placed in a situation whereby they cannot return back to their countries till the persecution ends and the situation normalizes. The state in India needs to assume a responsibility to
provide relief to the victims as per internationally accepted norms. On the contrary, Government of India has resorted to use this as an opportunity to carry out propaganda war. Fake news is being used to legitimise their intent of deporting 40 thousand Rohingyas. They are being demonized and being linked with Islamic terrorism when no such evidence exists. One of these is through the use of fake news of Rohingyas killing Hindus. Tweets by twitter account holders of those
associated with party in power have tried to indicate that many Hindus were killed by Rohingya Islamic Terrorists and that their homes were burnt, Hindu temples destroyed in Rakhine. Another tweet indicated that Islamic Rohingya terrorist were burning down Buddhist temples in Myanmar. The origin of the images in each of these was in reality from Bangladesh. They had no connection with Rohingyas. The images from Bangladesh were manipulated to spread the propaganda of Rohingya violence in Myanmar against other religious groups.
In the process of giving Rohingya issue a religious cover and the cover of Islamic terrorism, a fact not stated is that there are also Hindu Rohingyas who have been forced to flee from Myanmar. On 4th September 2017, about 500 Hindus fled to Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar.
The depiction of the ‘world’s most persecuted minority’ as an aggressor and terrorist when in reality, they are only victims of hate only serves the ideological propaganda of the Political party in power. They also represent a step by the state in abandoning its responsibility towards the refugees and those displaced due to conflicts.
T Navin is a Researcher and works with an NGO.