Rohingya people – Indian government's stand


At times, it seems to us that we are living in an alien world or a planet full of barbarism, spite and savagery. Amid volumes of books and talks, both spiritual and non-spiritual, which highlight and signify the values of humanity, peace and brotherhood, we find the world entangled in inhumanity, violence and hatred.

One such situation is the merciless persecution of the poor and helpless Rohingyas in Myanmar. Although, from the Vatican city to the African continent, several prominent leaders including Pope Francis and Desmund Tutu have condemned the killing of Rohingyas and pleaded with Aung Su Kyi to stop the genocide in Myanmar, the world is doing very little to stop violence and torture against the Rohingyas.

The argument of the Myanmar government that the army is waging a war against terror groups among the Rohingyas holds no ground. The evidence gathered by the international community and the media as well as the horrifying stories coming out from the people who escaped the massacre point to a horrendous genocide. The sad and hungry faces of survivors who have lost their near and dear ones, belongings and were uprooted say it all.

The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) is releasing updates on daily basis urging the international community to help save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people who have fled the atrocious regime. If anyone believes otherwise or accepts the argument of the Myanmar leadership, we could just say that the person doesn’t seem to be having a heart in his chest.

Under this clear background and when the international community is fully convinced of genocide and deliberate eviction of Rohingyas, the stand that the government of India has taken on the matter is appallingly different. Instead of exerting its power and influence upon the leadership of Myanmar to stop the killing of innocent people, the Indian prime minister during his recent trip to the Burmese Peninsula sympathized with the Myanmar leaders over the threat by terror groups among the Rohingyas.

Very pathetic also is the fact that the Indian government has now turned the heat against 40,000 odd Rohingya refugees who had escaped from Myanmar and have been living in India for a few years. The Home Ministry is filing an affidavit with the Supreme Court to the effect that the presence of these refugees poses security threats to the country.

With a view to strengthen their case, they have gone to the extent of laying allegations that militant groups across the borders have infiltrated their men into Rohingyas and are influencing the Rohingyas to indulge in carrying out terrorist activities in India. This reckless stand highlights nothing but some ulterior motive of the leadership and the ruling party.

First of all, why is there a sudden change in the outlook of the government? The Rohingyas did not cross the border overnight; they have been living for quite some time. On no previous occasion were they found to be influenced or working for any terror group or engaged in any gang activity; nor were they ever found involved or linked in any terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir or other province.

Further, it is nothing less than ludicrous to suggest that the Indian intelligence agencies, the police and armed forces are so weak and inefficient to catch terrorists among the refugees or determine the Daesh group (so-called IS) or other terror elements are influencing the Rohingyas.

One more alibi which has been put forth by the government is that the presence of Rohingyas will be a burden on the economy. For a country that has over 1.2 billion people, 40,000 people are like a drop in the ocean and the government has not provided any food or shelter to them.

Historically speaking, it was India, which not only saved millions of Bengalis from persecution and killings at the hands of the Pakistani army, but also allowed them to stay in India. They were repatriated only after the province was liberated from Pakistan and it was totally safe for them to return.

Similarly, India allowed tens of thousands of Tamil civilians who had escaped from the war torn zones of Sri Lanka to take refuge and who are still living in several parts of South India. In fact, India has, over the years, offered shelter to Tibetans, the Chakmas of Bangladesh, Afghans and ethnic Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. As recently as in July 2016, the Indian government had approved a number of facilities aimed at easing difficulties faced by minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan staying in India on Long Term Visas.

They were allowed to open bank accounts, purchase property for self-occupation and suitable accommodation for carrying out self-employment, take self-employment and obtain driving licenses, PAN cards (Income tax cards) and Aadhar numbers (social security cards). Earlier, in September 2015, the entry and stay of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists from Pakistan and Bangladesh who had come to India fearing religious persecution, either without valid documents or with documents whose validity had since expired, had been regularized by the government.

One could validly question, why then there is a change in the policy of the government vis-à-vis the Rohingyas? Just because a majority of Rohingyas happen to be following a particular faith or practicing a particular religion.

Now from legal and logical perspective, what could a state do at the most when foreigners cross over to its border illegally and stay in the country without permission. Sure, it could try, punish and put them in jail. Alternatively, it could repatriate them or force them to return to their countries. However, if such people happen to be stateless or do not have any document or evidence to prove their nationality or their country refuses to accept them, can the state throw them into the wild desert or the open seas? The current situation of the Rohingyas is that they would prefer to stay inside the jails rather than returning home.

Although, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Convention that has been ratified by over 145 countries is virtually considered as a rule of customary international law. The core principle of the Convention is ‘non-re-foulement’, which asserts that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. Further, by virtue of other conventions to which India is a signatory party, it is obliged to adhere to this very customary international law’s principle of ‘re-foulement’.

Seriously, under the circumstances, the move by the government questions the motive of the leadership of the ruling party. It might be also trying to please certain sections within the party and the external elements who harbor hatred against the minorities. With the Gujarat elections on the cards and based on its past strategy, such a move cannot be ruled out. Of course, the decision certainly reflects the ruling party’s partisan attitude and that is a cause of grave concern.

In fact, the Indian government’s standpoint not only presents a very bad impression about the country vis-à-vis humanitarian causes but it also reflects merciless character of its people, which is so untrue. In fact, it shatters the centuries old Indian tradition and culture which lay emphasis that guests are God's blessings.

Safi H. Jannaty

Dammam, Saudi Arabia