Behind Myanmar’s Persistent Use of the Term ‘Bengali’

By October 29, 2017 14:14

Behind Myanmar’s Persistent Use of the Term ‘Bengali’

Qutub Shah

Although Bangladesh warned, but too lately, Myanmar on an international platform not to refer to Rohingya as “Bengali” a term referring to the former’s national identity, the letter brushes off the warning shamelessly and persists to use the term more widely.

Behind this, Myanmar intends to test practically its silent hypothesis “Bengalis belong to Bangladesh” as the words literally suggest. Then the question to take them back will be likely absurd, as Myanmar may think.

In the UN General Assembly last month in New York, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged Myanmar to take back its citizens who have taken refuge in her country and also called for an end to “propaganda” that labelled the ethnic group as “Bengalis”.

It is a crucial stand of Bangladesh that Rohingya has been waiting for generations, but unfortunately it came when it may likely not work anymore, as Myanmar has already achieved its goal in forcing a million Rohingya out to Bangladesh, and in addition, is making utmost efforts to kick out the remaining ones forever, let alone taking them back again.

For the last time, on October 20, 2017 the information Committee, formerly known as State Counsellor Office Information Committee, led by Suu Kyi Office posted a news about Maungdaw where it used this term. Not only here, but also in every official documents and communications especially in Burmese this is the term used to refer to an indigenous of people of Arakan.


A recent hypocritical U-turn

In May 2016, meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry in Nay Pyi Taw, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who also serves as foreign minister, stressed that arguing about the nomenclature was not helpful to her administration’s effort in finding a workable solution for the conflict in Rakhine State and urged avoidance of words ‘Rohingya’ and ‘Bengali’.

“The reason why I said ‘you’ve got to be very firm about not using emotive terms’ is because such terms make it very difficult for us to find peaceful and sensible resolutions to our problems,” she said.

“The Rakhine Buddhists object to the term ‘Rohingya’ just as much as Muslims object to the term ‘Bengali’ because they have all kinds of political and emotional implications, which are unacceptable to the opposite party,” she added.

However, she stressed that the ability to self-identity was important for people all over the world saying, “We are not in any way undermining people’s desire to establish their own identity”.


Precolonial Rooinga

Distorting indigenous history of Rohingya and stripping them of ethnic identity, not only Myanmar’s successive governments but also the so-called history (distortion) experts and writers have been claiming that the word ‘Rohingya’ was first created in 50s of 20th century and these peoples are post-1824 intruder from Bangladesh and accordingly started to label them as ‘Bengalis’, while some precolonial historical records prove Rohingya’s existence in the soil of Arakan long before this period.

Works of Johann Severin Vater, Michael Symes in 1815 and 1800 respectively and, as well as, the Asiatic Researches of 1799 stand as the best examples. However, some Rakhines have made a failed attempt to redirect the connotation of the word ‘Rooinga’ mentioned in these sources to Buddhist Moghs. Perhaps they would be successful if the term was not mentioned in the context of ‘Muhamedans’. Whereas some other Rakhine extremists are holding “No Rohingya” labels even on their foreheads.

In addition, there are many historical sources, government-issued documents, IDs, books, encyclopedias, media sources, government declarations, state programs, etc. from colonial era and postcolonial era that prove this people’s identity, which is ignored by Myanmar government. Finally, the solution to Rohingya crisis depends on the political will of military generals, not any facts else.

This is the reason why Myanmar government and its puppet media were never ready to make a dialogue or discussion with Rohingya elites in this aspect, lest the result may not serve their evil interests.


Repatriation versus Displacement

Of course, Myanmar is willing not to see again the ones who fled to Bangladesh. Simultaneously, it is trying its best to bring this will into a reality. Here it is talking with Bangladesh about repatriation of the refugees taking shelter in Southern Cox’s Bazar, and, in contrast, it is erecting various obstacles before the survival of remaining Rohingyas in their original houses or IDP camps. Rape, killings, looting, blockade, arson and torture top the list.

Local armed authorities have set Rekhine mobs free to commit any atrocity against Rohingya. They are enjoying this impunity so much that they have attacked aid agencies on Sep 20 in Sittwe and last week in Myebone and as if there is a power vacuum. Is the government weak to halt them?

The IDP camps were temporary, but military had breathed life into them to become permanent concentration camps. Similarly, it is planning to construct this kind of camps on Myanmar-Bangladesh border for new refugees to be repatriated.

NVC is another plot. If Myanmar had a sincere intent, there would be an upgrade in our legal status. The writer’s family history summarizes the whole scenario – my parents have national identity cards, I hold temporary identity card and my next generation is given National Verification Card. I believe next card is to worse.

When Bangladesh has approached to Myanmar with a 10-point proposal for repatriation, the latter has refused it immediately and returned an edited version that may no longer work. For example, if Myanmar takes 100-150 refugees back daily, as is declared, it will take more than 10 years to repatriate 600,000 refugees who were forced out within 10 weeks.


If they are Bengalis

Hundreds of thousand Rohingyas had fled to Bangladesh recently. Since the fall of Arakan into the hands of Burmese invaders in 1784, Naf has been a ‘one-way’ direction for Rohingya exodus. Bangladesh was not their final destination, and further, they headed to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, etc. Before Myanmar accuses absurdly them of illegal migration from Bangladesh, it should think that if they are from Bangladesh, at least one in a million refugees should have traced his ancestral origin there and met their Bangladeshi relatives.

Here Dr. Mahathir Mohammad suits to be quoted as saying, “Rohingyas didn’t come to Burmese place but Burmese did to Rohingyas’ place”.

Now there are two options before Bangladesh either to hold this issue firmly or to accommodate the rest of the Rohingyas as well forever. Indeed, we, Rohingyas, want to go back to our home!



By October 29, 2017 14:14

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