By M.S. Anwar | Opinion and Analysis
May 1, 2017
India, a vast South Asian nation touted to have the potential to become a global super power, has a proud history of being the largest democracy in the world and respecting human rights. Why not? It is a nation with a population of over 1.3 billion of different ethnic and diverse cultural backgrounds. It has a history of over 5,000 years, where many religions have taken their births throughout the course of its history. It is a land of total freedom for its citizens, regardless of racial or religious origins. More often than not, it has also hosted thousands of refugees displaced by conflicts in the neighbouring countries.
However, not everything seems to have been going well in India lately. Communal and religious tensions are alarmingly on the rise and ethno-religious communities are becoming more and more polarized. A far-right section of the majority Hindu population — agitated by the ultranationalist RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) Organization, the ideological parent of the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) — is becoming more physical and violent towards the minorities and the lower castes of the very same Hindu community. With some TRP (TV Rating Points) hungry Indian media are fuelling the communal tensions with self-centred business motives, the country is now taking a dangerous course towards becoming one of the most communally polarized countries in the world.
Amidst these communal and hate campaigns by the right-wing political parties, a people facing with an extremely dangerous future is none other the ROHINGYA refugee community in India. The refugees first started to flee to India during and after state-sponsored violence on ethnic Rohingya people in their home land, Arakan state, in Myanmar in 2012. More refugees have fled to India as well as Bangladesh after the Myanmar military triggered offensives in Maungdaw, western Myanmar, in October last year. According to estimates, there are around 40,000 Rohingya Refugees now in India, mostly living in Delhi; Jammu and Kashmir; and Hyderabad etc.
Generally, there is a negative perception about Rohingya refugees in India. Some consider them to be intruders and security threats. And this negative perception has stemmed from some Indian media outlets going overdrive in rolling out propaganda campaign about the Rohingya people. Since 2012, Indian media have, on and off, tried to set up mythical links between them and some so-called terror groups based in Pakistan. Clearly, these propaganda pieces in the media have nothing to do with Rohingyas but only seem to serve the interests of politicians, elites and other powerful people behind.
Of late, some far-right Hindu political parties especially ‘J&K Panthers Party‘, an offshoot of RSS, have started anti-Rohingya political rallies calling for the total expulsion of the Rohingya refugees along with the so-called illegal Bangladeshi immigrants from India. They have physically attacked many refugees and burnt down their camps. These politicians accuse them of being intruders and threats to their existences; and express fears of possible links-up with the social unrests in the state of Kashmir. They accuse them of involving in crimes although the official government data proves otherwise.
Fear-mongering tactic and attacks by the right-wing hindu extremists have worked in forcing Rohingya refugees in Jammu to flee from their camps to an unknown destiny as their next safe haven. Recently, the Sri Lankan maritime autorities have captured an Indian boat with dozens of Rohingya refugees aboard fleeing from India to an undisclosed destination.
A Rohingya Refugee in the state of Jammu, on condition of anonymity, said “first of all, we want to tell Indian citizens that we are here in search of a safe haven and space to breathe because our people are mercilessly killed by the Myanmar government back in our home. We are not here as intruders or threats to Indian societies.
“Secondly, of course, not many wish to see the volatile situation in Kashmir but none of us has any intention to link-up with any movement in Kashmir. We abide by the Indian laws and, like the Indian citizens, wish the state to become peaceful through dialogues and peaceful resolutions. We are grateful to India and more concerned about our situation in Myanmar.
“Thirdly, we are much Indians by origin as we are descendants of the Indian people in Ancient Arakan. Hence, we are genetically, linguistically and culturally similar with the people of today’s India. So, we love India very much, too.
“Fourthly, if we are deported to Myanmar by force, we are most likely to be killed and imprisoned for life like our brethren in Myanmar now.”
Despite continual domestic political rallies against the Rohingya refugees in India, it has not drawn international attentions. When the Indian officials stated that they would explore ways to deport the refugees from the country reportedly after a union-level discussion, it made international headlines and drawn condemnations from Human Rights groups like HRW and Amnesty International.
This move by the Indian government begs one to question however. Where will the India deport the Rohingya refugees to? If India wants to deport them to their original homeland, Myanmar, after reaching an agreement with Myanmar government, then it must consider the following points.
1) Will the refugees feel safe and secure, more importantly, be able to live safe and secure under the oppressive Myanmar government, a government which has forced them to flee from their homes through systematic persecutions and violence in the first place?
2) Have Rohingya refugee repatriation programs been conducted by the government of Bangladesh with Myanmar through mediation of the UNHCR in the past really worked well? Are the refugees repatriated by the Bangladesh to Myanmar living safe, secure and with human dignity in their homes today?
In fact, more numbers of Rohingya people have fled back to Bangladesh since 2012 than those of the refugees that it had repatriated to Myanmar in the distant past. Hence, deportation of the refugees is no longer viable option in a situation that could risk their lives and lead them to life-time imprisonments. So, Indian government should either integrate them into its society or resettle them to third countries. Or, it must at least host them in the country until the basic human rights, ethnic rights and citizenship rights are restored; and they can live safe and secure in their home-country, Myanmar.
Although India is not a signatory 1951 UN Refugee Convention, let’s not forget that it is obliged to follow its internal act called 1993 The Protection of Human Rights Act. Besides, India is a member of UN Human Rights Council and the title ‘the largest democracy in the world’ which it takes pride of comes with certain international obligations to observe human rights including the rights of the refugees.
More importantly, the Indian government should change its foreign policy towards Myanmar and play a proactive role in engaging in effective dialogues with the government of Myanmar, simultaneously putting pressures on them in order to resolve the Rohingya plight. Its so-called non-partisan approach towards a pro-Chinese civilian-military hybrid government of Myanmar could prove futile not only economically but also in terms of regional stability.
If left undressed and unsolved, the Rohingya crisis could pose threats to regional security and; Indian economic interests in northern Arakan State of Myanmar and in the neighbouring regions. Political exploitations and arbitrary deportations of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar will not only put the lives of the thousands of the refugees in jeopardy but also damage the reputation of India, the World’s Largest Democracy, and its great records of human rights internationally.
M.S. Anwar is an activist, journalist and editor of the Rohingya Vision TV. This is his personal analysis and opinion only. He can be reached at: email@example.com