Rohingya refugees in India march to the UN office to plead for intervention to stop the genocide in Rakhine state.
On December 19, close to 2,000 people from the Rohingya community gathered at Nizammudin to appeal to the UN to intervene in the brutal oppression of Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.
Men, women, and children had traveled from Rohingya camps in Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad, Muzzafarnagar, and Delhi, holding placards to plead for the genocide to stop.
Myanmar, led by its democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has been witness to the long scathing attack on the Rohingya Muslims. Rohingyas have been subjected to immense discrimination, repression and brutal violence in Rakhine state. Considered illegal migrants, they have frequently been targeted and attacked by the Buddhist military forces. Myanmar state refuses to grant them citizenship rights even though they have lived in the Arkan state for many generations.
Several reports have emerged highlighting the deliberate torture, abduction, rape, burning of villages, and killings of civilians by Burmese soldiers who claim to be countering insurgents.
On October 9, there was conflict between certain members of an insurgent group who have been fighting for the rights of the Rohingyas and the military, following which there has been blatant violence on the community.
“Today itself,” said Reyaz, a Rohingya refugee residing in Delhi, “16 people have been killed. We just received the news from our friends from back home.”
Every day, Rohingya civilians are killed in “encounters”, and there is no accountability of death toll. “Army is supposed to protect the civilians, but in our country the army is burning our houses down, raping women and killing people.”
Reyaz’a brother, a writer, had published an article highlighting the brutalities on Rohingyas by the Myanmar state. Following this, the army started hunting him down, and he has been shot at once. “My brother ran away from home towards Bangladesh, but I have no idea where he is. The army came looking for him and burned our house down when they couldn’t find him. In front of my old mother, our home, our belongings, documents, money, everything was reduced to ashes in seconds. Just like our dreams.”
“The kind of torture we have witnessed is worse than death.” Fighting tears, Reyaz recounts horrific instances of gang rape of young women of his village. “Many young women have been gang raped by the army and young children have been found dead in river streams.”
Even in Burma most Rohingya are considered by the Burmese authorities to be “resident foreigners,” and illegal Bengali migrants from Bangladesh, hence robbing them off citizenship rights. Rohingyas have been subjected to restricted freedom of movement, denial of access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities and arbitrary confiscation and destruction of property.
“I was a poor farmer back in Burma. The military once caught me. They forced me to walk on a wooden plank with nails on it. They heated iron spikes and pierced it in my body. I still have marks on my body. I feared they would kill me. Since 5 years now, we have been living in India in these camps,” narrated 62 year old Ahmed* as he wiped his tears. He lost his small patch of land and has been struggling to make a living in India by doing manual labor.
The camps are makeshift jhuggis or slums along a filthy patch of land where garbage is dumped. There are two handpumps that supply water for all purposes. “Even for these houses we pay Rs. 500 as rent each month and additional Rs. 250 for electricity.” Abdul, father of 3 young daughters, worries about the hygiene conditions and the health of his children. “There are so many flies here as you can see. In summers my children always fall sick. We don’t have the money to take them to the hospital.”
Noor*, 23-years-old, resides in the camp with her husband and children but has been separated from her parents. She recalled horrors that she had witnessed in her village. “Many women from my villages were dragged out by their hair in front of us. We found their bodies dumped in swamps, jungles, and roads. Even after that, burying them was difficult for their families as they were scared to go out. The military would arbitrarily shoot at Rohingyas. People had to hide the dead bodies in their houses for days and then they sneak out at night to bury them. This is our fate. Not only do we live a life of humiliation and torture, even in our deaths, there is no dignity.
“We have been forced to leave our land, our lives behind and live here at the mercy of the Indian government. Even in Burma, we have always lived under the fear of the Buddhist leadership. We feel like we have always been refugees and always will remain refugees.
“When we were young, we used to hide in our houses and witness horrors that took place in the neighborhood. I have seen a woman being dragged out and tied to the tree while the army men raped her. Every single day there we have spent in fear.”
The Rohingya refugees in India fear that they will never be able to live a dignified life. “We were denied citizenship rights in Burma. And here, we are not citizens. We fear that in the future, Rohingyas might get wiped off. But history will remember us.”
History might remember, with regret, the Rohingyas and how the world sat back and allowed genocide to happen while their children memorialize Aung San Suu Kyi as the Nobel Peace prize laureate.
* Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.