November 03, 2012
In Arakan########Coincidental to the holy days of Eidul Azha, Rohingya Muslims of Burma became victim to yet another outbreak of violence over the past week. They were killed, their houses put on fire, forcing them to flee to the refugee camps set up by the United Nations on the border with Bangladesh. The Burmese government has put the death toll at 84 and said 129 were injured in nine stricken towns of the Rakhine state. But the New York-based Human Rights Watch says true death toll may be far higher.
The satellite images released by the Watch show the Muslim-majority Kyank Pyu town’s bustling harbour a ‘charred desolation’. Some 800 residential units including houseboats were burnt by the vandals, who arrived at some places in the guise of firemen, but to quench fires they ‘poured petrol instead of water’, an affected resident said – as the police looked the other way if it had not joined these firemen. A report also said that as the fear-stricken people were fleeing the harbour by boat a Burmese naval craft struck and thus ‘those fled by boat have died on the sea’. Given the imposition of curfew curtailing accessibility, the government-conducted a media trip to the blighted areas reveals only half truth. The whole truth about the grim tragic events over the week may never be known. But the ‘scale of exodus speaks of horrors on the ground’. Since Bangladesh refuses to take more Rohingya refugees the UN agency is now beset with a profound problem of providing shelter to another 22,000 refugees in the packed to the brim camps.
That such a human tragedy keeps visiting the world conscience and nothing moves is all the more tragic. When Burma shed its pariah label by returning to democratic process it was hoped that Rohingyas would get some relief. Then it was Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from long incarceration that stirred the hopes of persecuted minority, but there was no relief. In fact, the opposite seems to have happened; her joining the political process lent the military regime its much-needed international legitimacy. The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s consistent silence over the lingering plight of Rohingyas tends to show her in a different colour in the Muslim world than her iconic image in the West. As leader of opposition in the Burmese parliament she may not have much clout, but she is ambiguous and equivocal while a minority community is being wiped out; it’s disturbing if not intriguing. As to how complicit is the Burmese government the Human Rights Watch accuses the government of “both failing to intervene to stop sectarian violence and directly participating in abuses”. And the government would not let any body from outside to help the hapless, defenseless Rohingyas. According to BBC, it is President Thein Sein who “blocked” the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to open an office to help Muslims in distress in their visibly blighted and battered homeland.
To the West he may be the “Burmese Gorbachev” – for his moves to his country out of Chinese sphere of influence – but for the OIC the abiding interest should be protection of life and property of Muslims in that country. The present-day Rohingyas descend from the Arab-origin seafarers and traders who settled along Burma’s seaboard some seven hundred years ago. That after seven centuries of their uninterrupted citizenship, in 1984, the military junta excluded them from the list of 135 ethnic communities and thus deprived them of citizenship and basic rights. The United Nations describes the Rohingyas as a persecuted religious and linguistic minority – as against the Burmese government’s claim they are relatively recent migrants. We hope and expect the international community to stop this ethnic cleansing by defeating this racist mindset.