NEW DELHI: Dust has just settled in after light showers on muddy roads near Kalindi Kunj as an Imam delineates the teachings of Quran and Prophet Mohammad to a small congregation of ten people. He tries to convince attendees with his gesticulations and Mohammad Farooque nods in agreement.
In a white vest that has turned yellow with a few holes in front and a black pair of trousers, Farooque is a man in his early thirties. However, his bent back and hollow eyes make him look much older. The anguish is visible on his face as he has endured much more than what could be explained through words. Just about a kilometre away from Kalindi Kunj Bridge, where the metro construction is taking place at brisk pace; there exists a camp that comprises of 57 families of Rohingya Muslims who escaped from the persecution of the Myanmar government.
Farooque is observing fast in the holy month of Ramadaan and narrates his story in a low monotone which is replete with persecution, suffering and the massacres that he witnessed on his home soil in the Arakan district of Myanmar. Before fleeing his country and leaving his family at the peril of never meeting them again, Farooque’s protracted journey from Myanmar to India was one of sheer misery.
“They got hold of me one day (in his village in Myanmar) and took me to the police station. They made me cut the grass for animals and starved me for about two days”, says Farooque. Farooque ran away from the police station through the thick jungles of Myanmar into Bangladesh. He had evaded persecution at the hands of the Myanmar administration but little did he know that his situation was about to aggravate.
“I was hungry and I didn’t have even a single penny in my pocket. Only I can understand how I passed through those days of extreme sufferings. I found a few companions in Bangladesh who were to leave for India and I went along with them”. Farooques face registered the trauma of these memories and just then, Mohammad Saleem, a man in a white shirt and blue checkered cloth tied at the bottom came by to take the story further.
The only way for the Rohingyas to India is through the porous India-Bangladesh borders where they encounter very little resistance from the administration but massive exploitation at the hands of locals on both the sides. “We have to pay Rs.1500 on the Bangladeshi side and Rs.1000 on the Indian Side of the border. “If we refuse, they threaten us that they would get us apprehended by the police”, says Saleem. “Even the local coolies are part of this enormous racket”, he explains further.
Mistreatment of the Rohingyas doesn’t end here. Even though the value of Bangladeshi currency is lower than that of the Indian rupee, they are paid much lesser in exchange. “They leave us with limited choice because if the Indian police find Bangladeshi currency with us they would tag us as illegal immigrants. So we take whatever is being offered in exchange”, says Saleem.
Farooque had received a few images on whatsapp about a fortnight ago. His maternal grandfather who still resides in Myanmar had sent him the pictures of a bearded man who was rammed into by a police jeep. The victim hasn’t received any medical attention as yet and has a white blood stained cloth tied all over his left leg. “These brazen attacks on Muslims happen on daily basis there and they do it intentionally, the policemen”, Farooque empathizes with the victim.
To negate any possibility of upheaval, the authorities and police conduct vigilance every week and don’t even allow the smallest of knives. The level of suppression in Myanmar is such that the government follows a robust way of managing the population of Rohingyas. “As a person turns 18-19, the government officials would come and make a list of people promising them membership in army but at night they would blindfold the same people and take them away. God knows how many people have been taken away hitherto who never returned”, says Saleem.
UN describes Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world and their situation as one of the most dilapidated ones. The Myanmar government doesn’t recognize Rohingyas as the indigenous citizens of its state but rather regards them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The citizenship act 1982 of Myanmar has kept Rohingyas bereft of any voting rights and with absolutely no political representation. “They can say anything they like but our ancestors have been living there since ages and once Arkan district spread into Bangladesh. We still have one of the pillars in Bangladesh with Arkan inscribed over it”, says Farooque.
Farooque doesn’t have huge expectations from the Indian establishment either but he doesn’t get tired of appreciating Indian people as they have espoused his cause and understood the plight of his community. The education system in Myanmar is exceedingly prejudiced toward the Buddhists. “I just want my children to study and not to sustain what we had to. There in Myanmar they would fail our children deliberately and keep them stranded at lower grades”, says Farooque.
The clock shows 7:10pm and Farooque has to break his fast at 7:23pm. It has started raining again and an old lady is struggling to manage her tarpaulin in order to prevent leakage of water. The situation may not appear very exciting but for these Rohingyas their stay in India has brought a ray of hope for their children.