Myanmar has a long history of brutality against minorities
Even as India has come under criticism for its ungenerous treatment to Rohingya refugees, it is worth casting an eye on the perpetrator of the tragedy — the Myanmar Army. A series of attacks beginning October 2016 by a newly formed insurgent group Harakah al-Yaqin, also known as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), led to a crackdown involving arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial killings and displacement of more than four lakh people.
Myanmar’s modern history has always been a violent one. The majority of 68 per cent or so are Bamar or Burmans. The most prominent minority groups are Shan, Karen, Chin, Rakhine, Kachin and Wa, who occupy significant portions of the country and have at various times fought the Burmese authorities. There are also the Tibetans, Gurkhas, Pakistanis, Indians and Rohingyas, most denied Myanmarese nationality, even though they have lived there for generations.
A Rohingya insurgency has been around since the time of independence in 1948, but it has waxed and waned depending on the level of repression. Jihadi outfits in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh have fished in the troubled waters of Rakhine for quite some time but it’s debatable whether they have achieved anything.
Even the August 25 attack, which triggered the recent crackdown, saw the death of one soldier, one immigration officer and 10 policemen, against 59 insurgents killed. In response, the Army burnt entire villages, killed hundreds of Rohingyas and made more than four lakh refugees. What the world needs to focus on is their disproportionate violence, which is clearly a war crime.
Actually, there is nothing unusual about the Burmese Army’s actions. It has taken recourse to similar tactics in dealing with the Shan, Kachin, Karen or Wa insurgents, who have sought independence or greater autonomy. In 1988, the Army turned against the Burmese people as well, killing more than 3,000 people, who were protesting the military dictatorship.
In 2006, operations against the Karen National Union led to hundreds of deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands because of a government relocation programme. In 2011, it was the turn of the Shan; in 2014, the Kachins; and in 2015, the Kokang region. Many of these conflicts continue in large measure because of the Myanmar Army’s xenophobic attitude.
Coming to the issue of refugees in India. In 2001, the Group of Ministers report on reforming the national security system also looked into border management and said that “illegal migration from across our borders has continued unabated for more than five decades... today, we have about 15 million Bangladeshis, 2.2 million Nepalis, 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamils and about 1,00,000 Tibetan migrants living in India... This massive illegal migration poses a grave danger to our security, social harmony and economic well being.”
Presumably, a majority of the Bangladeshis would be Muslims. Islamic terrorists coming from Bangladesh have mainly been operatives of the ISI or one or the other Pakistani jihadi groups. There is no reason to assume that the Rohingyas are the the vanguard of some new wave of Islamic terrorism.
Fear mongering reports manufactured by shadowy government agencies had also once claimed that al-Qaeda was coming to India and later, the ISIS. As of now, neither have shown up. While the government is right to be cautious, its approach seems to be shaped by the ruling party’s generally jaundiced world view when it comes to Muslims. The government’s stand in the Supreme Court insisting on its right to deport Rohingya refugees is essentially driven by the politics of Jammu & Kashmir.
Here, there is a tussle between the Valley-based parties who are ready to provide facilities for refugees returning from PoK, while denying rights to Hindus and Sikhs who had come into the state in the wake of Partition. In an already inflamed debate, the presence of a large number of Rohingya who are, no doubt, illegally settled in the area, are seen as a threat to the ethnic balance of the Jammu region.
While looking at the present crisis, it is worth casting an eye back in recent history, the 1960s, when General Ne Win expropriated the property of Indians who had been living in the country for generations. Some 3,00,000 Indians were forced to leave in conditions of extreme deprivation. Today, nearly a million Indians live in the country, but without any rights as citizens. As usual, India accommodated the refugees without any fuss. The need of the hour is a big heart, not a stingy mind.