India’s only school for Rohingya refugee holds out hope for a better life for persecuted community
A diminutive concrete structure on Hyderabad’s rocky fringes is home to the only school for Rohingya refugees in India. Here, from 9 am to 4 pm daily, 110 children seated on thin, striped rugs, solve simple maths problems and recite the alphabet in halting Hindi and English.
“Hindi class is my favourite,” Muhammad Yacin, a lanky 10-year old in a flowing kurta told me before he darted out to play. Outside, unfinished construction sites and a stretch of patchy grass double as a playground.
The school – set up by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the Centre’s programme to ensure universal elementary education, Save the Children Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in June – is so far from the thrum of city life that a Rohingya student can walk a kilometer without seeing an Indian, said Srinivas Reddy, the school’s in-charge. But it guarantees each student a set of clothes, three square meals a day – and for most here, their first-ever experience of formal schooling.
Living without a state
The Rohingya, whom the United Nations groups among the most persecuted minorities in the world, are an ethnic Muslim group from the Buddhist-majority Arakan (Rakhine) state in Myanmar. A majority of Hyderabad’s 3,500 Rohingya arrived in India between 2012 and 2013 by boat, foot and train, after a wave of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Rohingya engulfed Arakan (Rakhine) and drove 1,40,000 Rohingya from their homes. They have been made stateless since 1982, when the Burmese Citizenship Act labelled the Rohingya illegal Bangladeshi migrants, effectively stripping them of citizenship in Myanmar.
Nearly every Rohingya on foreign land has one – or multiple – tales of a harrowing escape. Yet the11,000-odd Rohingya, thousands of Afghan Muslims and others seeking shelter in India from war and persecution – were conspicuously absent from a list of persecuted minorities whom the Cabinet last month offered a host of concessions.
According to the announcement, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan staying in India on long-term visas may now open bank accounts, purchase residential and commercial property, and apply for a driver’s license as well as PAN or Aadhaar card.
The Cabinet also relaxed citizenship registration fees to a uniform Rs 100 (from upwards of Rs 3,000) and empowered district collectors in 16 districts across seven states to grant citizenship.
This stands in stark contrast to the lengthy series of interviews that other refugees and asylum-seekers, like the Rohingya, go through to obtain refugee status, a UNHCR refugee card and a long-term visa. While most of the Rohingya in Hyderabad live peacefully, uncertainty haunts their rebooted lives.
“Like anyone without work, we go to the adda – a place where unorganised labourers go to look for odd jobs daily. If we find something, we’ll do it. If I’m a builder, I’ll do construction work,” 27-year-old Muhammad Zubair said in a crowded tarpaulin tent in Camp 1, a hovel of around 100 families in the Balapur area of Hyderabad’s Old City. Zubair said he works for 10 to 12 days each month.
Most of Hyderabad’s Rohingya live in makeshift camps and small settlements on donated land scattered across the city’s outskirts. Sizable Rohingya refugee populations also live in Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal.
The Rohingya school in Balapur aims to pull its students – most of whose parents work as rag-pickers, laborers, and factory-workers – out of this penury. Whatever the children’s legal status, (all 110 students have UNHCR refugee cards, which can be renewed every two years), the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, which funds the school, sees reason to proactively help.
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Source: Scroll In