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The Financial Express

Myanmar\'s metamorphosis and Rohingya persecution

| Updated: October 24, 2017 17:01:41


Myanmar\'s metamorphosis and Rohingya persecution

Myanmar might have to brace for yet another spate of global condemnation given the continued influx of its Rohingya citizens into Bangladesh. Dhaka, too, has started feeling the heat of the fallout resulting from the latest pouring-in of Rohingya refugees. Given the distressing developments, the two countries' already edgy ties are feared to turn frostier in the coming days.
Rohingya persecution in the earlier army-ruled country has never fully stopped --- even after the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi came to power.   Following the mass eviction of long-persecuted Rohingyas from their ancestral homes in the late 1990s, a fresh round of mindless violence forced thousands of them to flee to Bangladesh. As the western coast Rakhine state in Myanmar agonises in ruins with the Rohingya homes and other establishments being burnt down, males and children butchered and women violated, the number of refugees keeps soaring. The situation turns grimmer with every passing day.
All this has been set off by the so-called counter-insurgency programme of the Myanmar military in last October targetting alleged Rohingya armed groups. In the last two months, thousands of  displaced Rohingyas are said to have illegally crossed into Bangladesh. The influx continues despite round-the-clock patrol by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and other security forces. In the face of the BGB personnel's stringent patrol to stem the refugee tide, a few hundred Rohingyas are found constantly afloat on boats in the Naf River which marks the Bangladesh-Myanmar  border. Many of the refugees are sneaking into the Bangladesh territory with the help of local syndicates. They help the refugees reach illegal refugee camps in exchange for money.
The international community has lost no time in condemning the Myanmar military's anti-Rohingya campaigns and the government's failure to stop the persecution of Rohingyas, and bring a halt to their illegal entry into Bangladesh.  
Rohingyas have already been defined as "one of the most persecuted peoples in the world." The UN has termed the ongoing savageries let loose on the Rohingya Muslims living in the country's Rakhine state 'ethnic cleansing'. However, except the UN and some other Europe-based organisations, few have come up with concrete initiatives which can dissuade Myanmar from its Rohingya persecution. The US has recently expressed its willingness to stand by Bangladesh in its efforts to weather the crisis. As a country directly affected by the fallout of Myanmar's Rohingya persecution, Bangladesh remains baffled with the problem.       
According to an unsubstantiated theory, the Rohingyas originally belonged to Bengal in the distant past. For unclear reasons, they were compelled to migrate to neighbouring Mynanmar, then called Burma, during the 15th -16th centuries. Most of the historians do not accept the theory. They speak of the saga of a Buddhist ruler in Burma's Arakan province who mutinied against the region's king in the 15th century. Upon his failure in the attempt, he fled to the then Bengal through greater Chittagong borders along with his hundreds of followers. After a long time, the Buddhist ruler triumphantly returned to his native land, along with his people, with the help of a Sultan of Bengal   However, not much is at stake on whether the mostly Muslim-majority Rohingyas were originally from the south-eastern Bengal or not. The unanimously established fact is Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar's Rakhine state since the 15th-16th century.
The Buddhist-dominant Burma's discomfort with the Rohingyas eventually turned into a hostile stance on them after the army takeover in the country. The period began in 1962, after General Ne Win grabbed power from the government that was formed after the country's independence from Britain in 1948. With the military dictatorship continuing, multi-ethnic resistance to it intensified. Among other groups, the long-deprived Rohingyas also played a role in these anti-military campaigns.  
Regional historians trace the root of Rohingya persecution unleashed by the people, belonging to the country's major ethnic groups, in a ferocious form to this period. Many would like to go as far back as the late 1930s, when sections of orthodox Burmese people allegedly began fomenting anti-Rohingya frenzy. This racial chauvinism led to a series of ethnic and communal riots in Burma, long known to the outside world for its pacifist nature. Due to its being largely a closed society for long, the bitter realities in its social landscape remained confined within its boundaries. The outside world, even the countries in South and Southeast Asia, did not know much about what was really happening in that country. In the late 20th century Myanmar became synonymous with a ruthless military dictatorship, human rights violations ---- and the rise of a democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi. 
Few outside the country had reasons for suspecting Buddhist militants of getting involved in planning a long-term anti-Rohingya campaign. It was because the Buddhist philosophy of non-violence does not go with hatred and hostilities. But unfortunately this was what menacingly took root in Myanmar's Rakhine state. In fact, at one time the anti-Rohingya Muslim hysteria began to pervade the country's mainstream society. 
The rise of democracy icon Suu Kyi, her relentless anti-military movement and, finally, her party's grand electoral victory in 2015, did not make any difference for the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state. The racial profiling at social and economic levels has continued unabated even after the National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power. The internationally respected and Nobel Peace Prize-winning Suu Kyi maintained an uneasy silence over the taking back of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Over 30,000 displaced Rohingyas are still living in refugee camps in the Bangladesh district of Cox's Bazar. They are registered. Besides them, thousands of undocumented Rohingyas have been living in the large tracts of hills and dense forests since the 1990s. The seemingly unstoppable Rohingya influx has kept having its toll on the country's limited resources. Moreover, sections of the refugees eventually became a threat to the south-eastern region's social peace.
Today's Myanmar is a highly complex nation comprising dozens of ethnic groups. All of them nurture their own ethno-centred aspirations. They have been engaged in prolonged armed conflicts with the Burmese government for decades. These ethnic components include the Shans, the Kachins and the Karens. They have well-equipped armed guerrilla groups, with headquarters in deep forests. Compared to these ethnic groups' ferocity in terms of bad blood with the successive military regimes, Rohingyas have proved to be more inclined to assimilation and peaceful co-existence. Ironically, over the decades it is them who have had to undergo the severe forms of persecution.       
The all-out Rohingya persecution has been in the making since long. But it showed its ugly face in 2001, with the emergence of '969', an ultra-nationalist movement opposed to the 'expansion of Islam' in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar. It was spearheaded by one Bhikkhu Ashin Wirathu. Civil societies in the Southeast Asian countries denounced the so-called movement as being a promoter of racial profiling and instigator of xenophobic feelings. Thanks to the popularity of '969' in Myanmar with many Western countries ever vocal in matters of human rights remaining blasé about the Rohingya persecution, Bangladesh ought to brace for worse times. Upon taking stock of the situation, one cannot be blamed for calling Myanmar a 'closed country', and that it has yet to shake off its immediate-past image that is replete with dread. 
When it comes to the earlier Bengal and Bengalees, the mere mention of Burma arouses nostalgia in many. In the 18th and 19th centuries to early 20th century, the then Burmese capital of Rangoon was a favourite destination for young Bengalee fortune-seekers. The Burmese were well-known for their hospitable and gentle nature. On the other hand, the Bengalees won the hearts of their hosts with their honesty and entrepreneurship. Many youths later settled in Burma after tying knots with Burmese women. That these cordial relations would one day receive jolts were beyond the furthest corner of the people's imagination. Many analysts today find themselves in a quandary while trying to get to the root of Myanmar's present anti-Bengalee fever. Something must have gone awry with the psyche of the Myanmar rulers and the majority people. A section of experts points the finger at vested interests out to vitiate regional ties and harmony. A number of others would like to blame the nearly half-century military dictatorship for the insidious metamorphosis of the Burmese ethos.
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