Ethnical Origin and Identity of the Rohingya people
Different quarters of people with vested interests appear to propagate confusion as they hide the real identity of the Rohingya people from Rakhine state of Myanmer. We notice that how some section from within our very society are endeavouring to label the “Rohingyas” as “Bengalis” in a pretty much imposing manner. The Myanmer government itself claims the “Rohingyas” to be the descendants of the Indian, Bengali and Chittagonian settlers whom the British administration brought in the Arakans during the British colonial regime in India. But this claim of Myanmer government is not entirely correct. It is historically settled that the Rohingyas have evolved and flourished in the Arakans as a “nation” from certain centuries back. Basically the Rohingyas are a mixture race. This race was evolved during 7th-8th century. It originated through inter-mingling of the Muslims from the middle-east and the local Arakanese people. Later this mixed race emerged in its full identity by 13th-14th century who have been a blend/fusion of the Chittagonians, Rakhines, Arakanese, Burmese, Bengalis, Indians as well as the migrants from the middle-east. The Rohingyas had a kingdom of their own from 15th-18th century in the then Arakan. As we know that the literary chronicles of the ancient and medieval ages often serve as substitute of the history. The real identity of the Rohingyas, thus, can be known from the “Appreciation of the Rosang King (Raj)” episode from “Padmavati,” translation of a romance written in verses by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in original Hindi; Alaol, the great Bengali poet of the medieval age translated it in Bangla. Here I do cite several verses from that episode:
Different people from different lands
Come and get assembled
Under the patronage of our noble king,
Khorasani and the Uzbeks.
Then again you see the people
Hailing from Lahore-Multan-Hindustan,
As well as from Kashmir-South India-Sindh
Or those from Kamrup (Assam) and Bengal.
Here in this royal court
There are the men from Bhopal and Kudangsar
Kannai Manal Abari and
Achi Kuchi or the locals of Karnataka.
Offspring of the Sheikhs and Syeds,
Mughal and Pathan soldiers
Or the Rajput Hindu warriors.
Here sing the Abhais, Barma (the Burmese) or Siam (Thai people)
Or people from Tripura and the Kukis-
How many races more I should mention?
Don’t forget the Armenians or the Dutch,
Danish or the English,
Catalonian or the French,
Keep in remembrance the
Hispanic and the Germans,
And so many races including the Portuguese.
(Source: Complete works of Alaol the poet. Edited by Mohammad Abdul Quaiyum and Razia Sultana. Bangla Academy. First Published in December 2007- Bengali to English translation is by this translator).
Great poet Alaol was a pertinent intellectual of the Rosang royal court. Arakan used to be called “Rosang” in the ancient days. Historians agree to the point of view that it is from the word “Rosang,” that the coinage “Rohingya” is originated. The very poems penned by Alaol evidences about who are the Rohingyas and what is their identity. According to Wikipedia, “The term Rohingya may come from Rakhanga or Roshanga, the words for the state of Arakan. The word Rohingya would then mean inhabitant of Rohang, which was the early Muslim name for Arakan. Andrew Tan argues it comes from the Arabic word Raham (God's blessing) and speculates that early Muslims in Arakan referred to themselves as "God's blessed people.” This is why it’s nothing but some sort of confusing and imposing practice to mark the Rohingyas as the “Bengalis.”
Historical Context: Past and present of the Rohingya crisis
The Rohingya crisis has commenced since 1942, according to the historical information. Around 14 large operations so far have been conducted against the Rohingya people from 1948-1978 on the basis of the planning of the Burmese (present Myanmer) government. Of those, the major ones are: BTF Operation, Combined Immigration and Army Operation, U.M.P. Operation, Captain Htin Kyaw Operation, Shwe Kyi Operation, Kyi Gan Operation, Nagazin Ka Operation, Myat Mon Operation, Major Aung Than Operation, Sabe Operation and Nagamin (Dragon) Operation.
Because of these ruthless operations that the Rohingyas did arrive in Bangladesh, being persecuted and driven away by the Burmese military. The Government of Bangladesh, out of solely humanitarian grounds, offered them shelter in adherence to the international law. Our government had to cope with this crisis since the epochs of the British ruled Bengal, pre-Independence the then East Pakistan and the free and sovereign Bangladesh from her inception moment. The Burma Socialist Programme Party, however, called for the First People Congress during the Major Aung Than operation in North Arakan (1973) and “Sabe Operation” in 1974. The province of Arakan was declared “Rakhine State” during this time and the violence escalated against the Rohingyas attained some new extent. Around 10,000 Rohingyas then took refuge in different villages of Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh as they fled from their homesteads in Myanmer. Father of the Nation and the then President of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman conveyed “ultimatum” to the Burmese government with emphatic call to end torture against and repatriate the Rohingya refugees in their homes. Myanmer government then became bound to resettle the Rohingya refugees in Arakan. Basically it is through sending of this ultimatum that the crystal clear outlook of Bangladesh government to acknowledge the Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmer was reflected. Only within three years of receiving ultimatum from the government of Bangladesh that the Myanmer military junta launched another horrendous operation against the Rohingyas which was named “King Dragon (Nagamin) operation.” Around 250,000 Rohingyas had taken refuge in Bangladesh during this operation period. Although the Myanmer government repatriated around 200,000 Rohingyas in 1978 after “Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Bangladesh-Myanmer Refugee Repatriation” was signed, the military junta of Myanmer did not keep their promise too long. Cruelty and torture against the Rohingyas began again just within two years of the resettlement of the Rohingyas. Again a huge number of the Rohingyas took shelter in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh as they crossed the Naaf river at the Teknaf border area during 1988-90. Many of them did set up permanent abodes here and started living.
By November 1990, the Rohingyas began arriving in Bangladesh by and large. Bangladesh government then adopted three steps to resolve this crisis at primary level so that the widespread of the Rohingya problem can be desisted: 1. Provided directives to the Ambassador of Bangladesh in Yangoon, Myanmer via correspondence at apex diplomatic/consular level of the Myanmer government,
- Bangladesh government undertook planning to take help from China regarding this crisis as Myanmer, a state totally excluded from the outer world, maintains amiable relationship only with China,
- On 30 September of 1991, the then Foreign Affairs Minister of Bangladesh Lieutenant Colonel (Retd.) A.S.M.Mostafizur Rahman had dialogue with the State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmer U Ahn Giwa.But, the Myanmer government did not lay any importance to any of the aforementioned three steps taken by the Bangladesh government.
After long and tenacious efforts of the Bangladesh government and with support from the international community that the Myanmer government consented to repatriation process of their Rohingya refugees in April 28 of 1992 and an agreement (Joint Declaration) was signed between the Foreign Affairs Minister of Bangladesh Mostafizur Rahman and Foreign Affairs Minister of Myanmer U Ahn Giwa. This agreement mentioned that around 250,000 refugees will be able to return home under this resettlement programme within three weeks to six months of signing the agreement.
Though conditions of the joint agreement stipulated that the Rohingya refugees should be repatriated from 15th May of 1992 onwards but the process could not be initiated because of lack of response on behalf of Myanmer. A total number of only 47,575 Rohingyas were able to get repatriated by November 15 of 28th May though around 250,000 Rohingya refugees were supposed to be repatriated within six months tenure starting from 28th May, with 5,000 Rohingya refugees to be repatriated at each batch.
Another Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between UNHCR High Commissioner of Dhaka Dr. Sadako Ogata and Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Reaz Rahman on May 12 of 1993 on the basis of the demands of the Rohingyas, international pressure and interest of Bangladesh.
Yangoon government signed another bipartite MoU between UNHCR and Myanmer after a UNHCR mission, led by Michael Pristley, visited Myanmer in July 1993. The Myanmer government agreed about presence and functioning of UNHCR in Myanmer after the mission’s visit and thus the bipartite MoU was signed on November 5 of 1993. The sole objective of this agreement was that UNHCR will supervise the repatriation process of the Rohingya refugees staying in Bangladesh out and out with total support from the respective governments of Bangladesh and Myanmer. But generally the conditions which remain present during the repatriation of any refugee community across the world, were not maintained during the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. Despite the good practice of repatriation of the refugees with dignity in countries like Cambodia, Palestine or Afghanistan, the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh had to return home amidst fear of intimidation and reprisal. This is why reluctance of the Rohingya refugees to return back home was intense in absence of the UN system.
After a Rakhine woman was raped in June 2012 by a handful of Rohingya miscreants, Rakhine-Rohingya violence was unleashed again. At some point of this escalation of violence, both the Myanmer Army and the Rakhines began ethnical cleansing and oppression against the Rohingyas. Around one lakh (100,000) Rohingyas entered Bangladesh during that period.
This year violence against Rohingyas in Myanmer had erupted again since August 25 while the Report of “Kofi Anan Commission” was published just one day before the fateful day, i.e., on August 24. In the “Final Report Towards a peaceful, fair and prosperous future for the people of Rakhine,” certain recommendations were made for economic and social development of the Rakhines and their citizenship, right to movement, preventing internal displacement, access to humanitarian aid, access to media, education, health, drugs, communal representation and participation, right to inter-community love, inter-community solidarity, security, justice, cultural development, frontier and other bipartite issues with Bangladesh and regional relation.
The recommendations upheld that:
- Rohingyas should be granted citizenship and their safe repatriation (from Bangladesh to Myanmer) needs be ensured through joint verification process by Myanmer and Bangladesh.
- Their citizenship verification process need be harnessed according to the Citizenship Act of 1982. Meantime, those verified as citizens must be granted all sorts of rights and freedoms.
- The Citizenship Act of Myanmer should be connected with the international laws and customs, citizenship and different ethnic groups of Myanmer.
- Those denied of citizenship in Myanmer should be mainstreamed in the Myanmer society by updating their status as resident of that country.
- Everyone must have access to free movement irrespective of race-religion-color.
- Steps must be taken for development and investment in Rakhine province so that the local ethnic groups too may have the benefits.
- Members of all the ethnic groups and communities should be involved in the political process of Myanmer.
- Camps of the internally displaced people should be closed and proper measures should be taken to mainstream them in the society.
- Amiable relationship within the communities should be built and security of all the communities need be ensured.
- Bangladesh-Myanmer friendly relationship should be strengthened to face the identical problems including the border issue.
- Adequate infra-structures should be created in Myanmer for implementation of the aforementioned recommendations and dignitaries of ministerial level should be assigned with the responsibility of implementation of the recommendations.
But violence escalated just one day after ensuing of the report. Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched sudden attack upon 30 police check posts of the Rakhine province on August 25. Myanmer administration so far had claimed that ARSA hurled attack upon an army camp too. Around 12 police officers have been killed in that attack, according to Myanmer’s claim. The Myanmer army, in response, launched severe retaliatory operations. Since then more than 500,000 Rohingyas so far have fled and taken refuge in Bangladesh. Right now there are more than 900,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh with the newcomers and those who have arrived during earlier conflicts. There is influx of Rohingyas almost every day. A huge number of pregnant Rohingya mothers are giving birth to babies. The number of Rohingya population may exceed one million.
Recently the Honour’able Prime Minister of Bangladesh Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina has presented her six-points’ proposal to stop persecution of the Rohingyas, repatriate them in a proper way and end all the ill campaigns regarding their identity before the leaders of the Muslim countries. Those six point proposals are:
- Ending all sorts of torture and repression against the Rohingya Muslims immediately.
- Creating/building “safe zones” for the innocent civilian people particularly for the women, children and the old people within Myanmer where they will get protection.
- Making provisions for repatriation of all the Rohingyas with safety and dignity who have been displaced by use of force.
- Implementation of the entire set of recommendations as made by the Kofi Annan Commission should be carried out in resolving the Rohingya crisis.
- The state propaganda being carried on by Myanmer against the Rohingyas to identify them as the “Bengalis” must be stopped.
- Till the repatriation of the Rohingyas in Myanmer gets completed, all the fraternal Muslim states should provide Bangladesh sufficient humanitarian aid on an emergency basis.
Actually the Rohingya crisis connotes and carries the image of a sub-regional crisis too. It’s an ethnical problem of Myanmer. It is Myanmer who must resolve this crisis. As it is an internal problem of Myanmer, Myanmer must solve the problem. Since the problem began in Myanmer. Onus of safe and proper repatriation of the Rohingyas lies upon and it must be ensured by the Yangoon authority. We believe that the six points’ proposal for resolving the Rohingya crisis as presented by our PM Sheikh Hasina is the ultimate remedy or solution to the problem. United Nations High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) agrees to this proposal. If now Myanmer agrees to our proposal, only then we can solve the problem with sheer efficacy and speed.