The Rohingya and their Historic Rights
By Aman Ullah
Arakan, in fact, a continuation of the Chittagong plain was neither purely a Burmese nor an Indian Territory until 18th century. Chiefly for its location, it had not only remained independent for the most part of history but also endeavored to expand its territory in the surrounding tracts whenever opportunity came. It is a natural physiographic unit clearly separated from the rest of Burma by a long and high impassible hill range of Arakan Yoma and also located far away from Indian capitals. The relation Chittagong and Arakan is influenced by geographical, cultural and historical considerations.
Culturally, socially, economically and politically the peoples of Arakan were independent for centuries. Hinduism and Buddhism spread from India, whereas Islamic civilization began influencing Arakan from the 7th century. As such, her relation with western Muslims states is millennia-old.
Across the last two thousand years, there has been great deal of local vibrancy as well as movement of different ethnic peoples through the region. For the last millennium or so, Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) have historically lived on both side of Naaf River, which marks the modern border with Bangladesh and Burma. In addition to Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) majority groups, a number of other minority peoples also come to live in Arakan, including Chin, Kaman, Thet, Dinnet, Mramagri, Mro and Khami etc.
The Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) had been peacefully coexisting in Arakan over the centuries. Unfortunately, the relation between those two sister communities began to grow bitter at instigation of the third parties, during the long colonial rule of more than two centuries. The anti-Muslim pogrom of 1942—in which about 100,000 Rohingya were massacred, 50,000 of them were driven across the border to the east Bengal some parts of Muslim settlements were devastated—have caused rapid deterioration in their relation.
Today, the greater number of Rakhines, under the patronization of the successive regime, is hostile to Rohingyas. They are main instruments of Rohingya oppression over the decades. Even many Rakhines today claim Arakan to be the ‘historic land of Rakhine Buddhists’. Denying the existence of Rohingya, they state that Arakan belongs to them alone and the Rohingyas have nothing to do with it and have no right to use the word ‘Arakan”.
It is not possible to scribe to Rakhines an “historic right”, the right of first occupier. The Arakanese chronicles recorded a line of kings reaching back to year 2666 BC. More certain is the Kingdom of Dannya Waddy (Dhannovati), which flourished at the beginning of Christian era. Many modern scholars including U Aung Tha Oo and U San Tha Aung believes that the Rakhines were Ayans who came from the west.
Brahmanical and Buddhist culture together an influx of Aryans speakers arrived in this area, in the early centuries Christian era. So the people in the kingdom of Dannya Waddy were not Aryans stocks. They might have been Proto-Australoid people like that of Bengal or Negrito group of Neolitihic descendants. The pre-Aryan peoples are the real Adivasis (aboriginal) of this area. They were not only the first occupants of the land and had been there for thousand years until the Aryans and other peoples come.
Archaeological remains, many historical and numismatics evidence confirms that the earlier Arakanese dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over population similar to that of Bengal.
Arab traders were close contact with the people as early as 788AD and that they introduced the religious of Islam there in as early as that time. Many these Arabs settled in Arakan. In the 8th century AD some Buddhists from Magadha in north and northeastern India escaped persecution of Hindu revivalism and took shelter in Chittagong and Arakan region.
History does not help us in forming an idea of Burmese infiltration into Arakan before 11th century AD. Hall and others described the Araknese (Rakhines) of today as “basically Burmese with an unmistakable Indian admixture …It is only about the 11th century that we can speak of a people of Indo-Mongoloid stock, from an ethnic group in the intermixture of tribes of various ethnic origins, such as, Australoid, Mongoloid and other elements now known as Arakanese Buddhist.
Wilhelm Klein, in his book ‘Burma the Golden’ wrote that, ‘all sudden, Arakan changed. The invading tribes made the country face east, away from India. As Burma began to flex its muscles, the profound changes born at Pagan started to transform Arakan… over the centuries the physiognomy of the Arakanese people changed. The racial admixture of Indo-European with only recently arrived Central Asians became predominantly Mongoloid, an ethnic mixture which still characterizes today’s Arakanese.’
Historically they called Magh. According to Phayer, the name Magh originated from the ruling race of Magadha.As to Prof. San Tha Aung, ‘the derivation would probably be Maghodhi- Magai- Mog or Magh’. However, they prefer to identify themselves as Rakhine.
Rohingyas are descended from local indigenous tribes who lived in Arakan since the dawn of history. They are thus not descended from the Arabs, Moors, Persian, pathens, and Moguls alone. The Arabs arrived in Arakan in the late 7th century AD, settled there and intermingled, intermixed and intermarried with the local people and converted a number of local populations including local Buddhists. The appearance of the Arab in Arakan in the 7th century was far more of a cultural phenomenon than ethnic one. The Persians, Truks, Pathens and other Muslim migrant who came into Arakan in the course of time were also merged with the local populace. These various migrations and local converts led to form one common racial and linguistics classification as “Rohingya”; a term derived from Rohang, the ancient name of Arakan.
Dr. Michael W. Charney, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, writes, “The earliest recorded use of an ethnonym immediately recognizable as Rohingya is an observation by Francis Buchanan in 1799. As he explains, a dialect that was derived from Hindi …is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long been settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Roainga, or native of Arakan.”
With the passage of time, there come to exist two distinct and compact communities of Rohingya and Rakhine in Arakan out of those heterogeneous races and tribes and are thus equally entitled to similar historic rights. Both are indigenous people characterized by objective criteria, such as historical continuity, and subjective factors including self-identification which need to define an indigenous people and to have the right of self-determination. It means that, if Rakhines have historic rights in Arakan the Rohingyas have also the same right in Arakan. If the Rakhines freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development, the Rohingyas have also the same rights to charter their destiny by their free will, by virtue of their rights to self-determination.