Rohingyas: Complete analysis & India's role

Date: September 11, 2017

Myanmar India Bangladesh

Context

In Myanmar/Burma, the Rohingya are living with very limited access to basic services and almost negligible livelihood opportunities due to strict movement restrictions.

The statelessness of and the discrimination against the Rohingya must urgently be addressed.

Who are the Rohingyas?

  • The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group living primarily in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
  • They practice a Sufi-inflected variation of Sunni Islam.
  • The estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar account for nearly a third of Rakhine’s population.
  • The Rohingya differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically, and religiously.

What is the crisis?

  • The Rohingya crisis is a human rights crisis with serious humanitarian consequences.
  • Large number of Muslim Rohingya have fled Myanmar, many crossing by land into Bangladesh, while others take to the sea to reach Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
  • The unfair policies of the Myanmar government in Rakhine state have resulted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee since the late 1970s.

 

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Cause of the recent conflict

  • Violence broke out in 2012, when a group of Rohingya men were accused of raping and killing a Buddhist woman.
  • Groups of Buddhist nationalists burned Rohingya homes and killed more than 280 people, displacing tens of thousands of people.
  • Since 2012, the region’s displaced population has been forced to take shelter in filthy refugee camps.
  • On October 9 2016, three border posts on the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh were attacked by a group of Islamic militants leading to the death of nine policemen.
  • The attack, that was reported to have been carried out by Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, was soon followed by a counter terrorism insurgency carried out by the Tatmadaw (Burmese military).
  • The conflict intensified on August 25, 2017, when Muslim insurgents of Rohingya origin attacked security posts in Rakhine.

Why the issue of ethnicity for Rohingya?

  • The Rohingya trace their origins in the region to the fifteenth century when thousands of Muslims came to the former Arakan Kingdom.
  • Many others arrived during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Bengal and the Rakhine territory were governed by colonial rule as part of British India.
  • Since independence in 1948, successive governments in Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989, have refuted the Rohingya’s historical claims and denied the group recognition as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups.

Both the Myanmar government and the Rakhine state’s dominant ethnic Buddhist group, known as the Rakhine, reject the use of the label “Rohingya.

Plight of the tribe

  • The Rohingya are largely identified as illegal Bengali immigrants, despite the fact that many Rohingya have resided in Myanmar for centuries.
  • Their plight has been worsening by the responses of many of Myanmar’s neighbors, which have been slow to take in refugees for fear of a migrant influx they feel incapable of handling.

Why such hatred towards the Rohingya?

  • Buddhism happens to be the religion of the majority in present day Myanmar.
  • Rohingyas have a more complicated origin which makes their presence within the current borders of the nation problematic in the eyes of the majority.
  • Majority of them belonged to Chittagong in present day neighbouring country,Bangladesh and were brought over by the British to work as farm labourers.
  • The massive rate at which they entered Arakan was a cause of great resentment among the local population, among whom a strong sense of nationalism developed.
  • Communal clashes started taking place between the local Buddhist population and the Muslims from Bangladesh who stayed on.
  • Several among them formed groups demanding either an autonomous state for themselves or the discretion to join the newly formed East Pakistan.
  • Over time Rohingyas went on to acquire the status of foreigners in the newly-formed state dominated by Buddhists.

Why are Rohingya fleeing Myanmar?

  • Government policies, including restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice, and freedom of movement have institutionalized systemic discrimination against the ethnic group.
  • Rakhine state is also Myanmar’s least developed state, with more than 78 percent of households living below the poverty threshold, according to World Bank estimates.
  • Widespread poverty, weak infrastructure, and a lack of employment opportunities exacerbate the cleavage between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya.

What is the attitude to Rohingyas among countries of the region?

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  • Thailand:Its navy says that it has given aid to migrant boats in its waters and has indicated it may allow refugee camps on its shores. But it is turning boats away and does not want permanent settlers.
  • Malaysia: This is the choice of destination for most Rohingyatravellers because it is predominantly Muslim and short of unskilled labourers. But Malaysia has ordered its navy to repel them.
  • Bangladesh: Sometimes allows them to live in camps on its south-eastern border and sometimes sends them back to Myanmar. It is estimated there are currently about 200,000 Rohingyas living in refugee camps, many in squalid conditions.
  • Indonesia: Has made it clear they are not welcome, turning away boatloads of migrants. It has accepted those rescued by fishermen but has warned them not to rescue any more. A group of migrants who made it ashore in early May may be expelled, the government has warned.

Rohingyas in India

  • There are an estimated 36,000 Rohingya Muslims in India today, concentrated in the seven states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi.
  • Delhi stance on the Rohingyas is firm; they are welcome as long as the Rohingyas obtain a valid visa and have a refugee card.
  • Without a refugee card, the Rohingyas can’t claim land, health benefits or education for their kids.
  • According to a Reuters report, only 9000 of the 36,000 Rohingyas who live in India are registered.

Where does India stand on the issue?

  • India has maintained a cautious stance.
  • India has been receiving Rohingya refugees and allowing them to settle in different parts of the country over the years particularly after the communal violence in Rakhine state in 2012.
  • In December 2012, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid visited Rakhine state and donated $1 milion for relief in the violence hit state.
  • However, Delhi has not made any official pronouncement.

Why such distant stand by India?

  • Rohingya crisis is irreconcilable and unresolvable. All that can be done is try to mitigate it.
  • With India having no solution or expertise to offer, it is a good reason to stay away.
  • India has real security interests which depend on the goodwill of the Myanmar regime.
  • In 2015, for instance, following an attack by Naga rebels on a security convoy in Manipur, Indian forces carried out a covert raid across the border – with the quiet nod from Yangon. Delhi does not want that trust to be eroded.
  • A new Muslim militant minority across India’s eastern border poses a severe security threat to the stability in Bangladesh and, in turn, across Assam and northeast India.
  • Several thousands of Rohingya refugees already reside in India and with support from activists they could disrupt Delhi’s relations with Myanmar.

Impact on India

  • When peace returns to Myanmar, India can ask the latter to rehabilitate the Rohingyas.
  • A stable and democratic Myanmar will naturally gravitate towards New Delhi.
  • The Rohingya crisis, if it remains unsettled, can become a path toward radicalization and pose a greater security threat for India.
  • There are reports of increasing radicalization among sections of the Rohingya community.
  • A December 2016 report by the International Crisis Group spoke precisely about this challenge and highlighted how rights violations can lead to radicalization.

Can India help Rohingyas?

  • There is not much that India can do to help Rohiyangas.
  • The escalating violence in Rakhine State can best be solved by allowing access to international observers and humanitarian aid
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) needs to abandon its consensus and non-interference approach and perceive the ongoing problem as a regional problem.
  • It would require some ASEAN disciplining of Myanmar, the time for that has arrived.

Can the Rohingya problem be resolved?

  • Not until or unless the international community puts pressure on Myanmar to improve the lives of the Rohingya communitybecause ultimately it is only Burma who can solve the problem.
  • An independent international investigation is needed to address the grave abuses being reported out of the country and to deter further abuses.