While their parents scrabble for food and part-time jobs, hundreds of Rohingya children are getting a makeshift education in shanty huts in Bathandi, a predominantly Hindu part of India’s northern Jammu and Kashmir state.
Hundreds of thousands of this ethnic Rohingya have fled military persecution in Burma for refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh in the last several years, but a smattering have made their way further to India.
According to government figures, 1,219 Rohingya families, or 5,107 people, live in Kashmir. Of them, 4,912 hold cards issued by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Among those who fled was the family of Mohammad Tahir, a 22-year-old Rohingya Muslim who is now offering classes to children who, like him, have been forced to leave their homeland and abandon their studies.
He said he was recommended by a contact in New Delhi to make his way to Kashmir to join the fledgling community of refugees there.
“We were told that the weather here is tolerable and we would be able to get decent wages, so we decided to ‘pitch our tents’ here,” he said.
At one of the classes ucanews.com observed for young students, Tahir asked the children to say the names of all the different fruit in English.
“You see? They’ve memorized them already,” he said with a smile. “They also recognize colors [in English] and have memorized the alphabet.”
Sitting in the front row of the makeshift class was 4-year-old Tasleema Akhtar, who was striving to pronounce words like “papaya,” “orange” and “guava” correctly.
Tasleema is one of thousands of Rohingya kids whose parents left the northern part of Burma’s Arakan State in the wake of violence and discrimination.
She only knows of her place of birth through lullabies and stories from her mother. In class, she was able to describe Arakan as a land “full of fruit, rivers and fish.”
Her family left in 2012, five years before the military crackdown reached its crescendo in 2017, prompting an estimated 800,000 Rohingya to flee.
The U.S. State Department issued a report on Sept. 25, 2018, confirming that mass killings, gang rapes, and other atrocities occurred at the hands of the military. But it stopped short of labeling this genocide or crimes against humanity.
Tasleema was born two years after her family fled, at a refugee camp in Kashmir in 2014.
“It is still only her first week at school, but she has dazzled us with her sense of humor. She is also pretty good at maths and has an impressive memory,” Tahir said.
He recalled the persecution his community faced in Arakan, adding that he still has flashbacks of torched villages and screaming women.
He was 19 years old when the family left. Tahir said he trekked for days through treacherous terrain with his two brothers and elderly parents before they reached India.
Read more from source: UCA News