Understanding Rohingya

Just a few weeks ago the word “Rohingya” was never even heard of. Little did the world know that they are a stateless group of Muslim people in Burma, suffering under persecution of the worst kind possible. They are not recognised as citizens, they are not allowed to, move around, marry, conceive without state permission, receive an education after the age of seven and neither can they claim rights to land they own. Three out of seven days Rohingya people are required to clean and maintain Buddhist monasteries, and they are referred to as “kalla” mean black.

Rohingya are not allowed to be issued with birth certificates or death certificates – they are labelled as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Rohingya Muslims have been in existence in the Arakan region for more than 1200 years. Mabrur Ahmed, co-founder and co-director of Restless Beings, a humanitarian organisation that works with marginalised communities across the globe, said Rohingya people even existed at the start of Buddhism in Burma which dates back about 4500 years.

“The majority of the spread of Buddhism came from the Arakan region and that is where the clashes are taking place,” explained Ahmed. “For more than 1000 years Arakan has been inhabited by the Rakhine and Rohingya – they are the two indigenous groups of the area.”

The Rakhine are describes as very spiritual, deeply religious and conservative Buddhists. “A lot of the monks of Burma came from that region, but this only really happened after the Kingdom of Arakan because it was a separate kingdom and was engulfed by Burma and that spread of Buddhism took place,”  sad Ahmed. “At the same time the spread of Islam took place. But not as quite the same weight as the spread of Buddhism through the Rakhine in that particular region. The rise of  Buddhism came after the Rohingya already arrived in Burma.”

Burma was placed under a military junta since 1962, resulting in a media blackout. Hence nobody knew of the plight of the Rohingya and the fact that they were stripped of their citizenship more than 30 years ago.

Restless Beings is the first organisation that managed to get video footage out of Burma to highlight the persecution of the Rohingya. Restless Beings is now working with major international media houses get more footage out of the region to create awareness.

“The reason it wasn’t covered is because it was really difficult to get access, but through us the media have an opportunity to get access,” said Ahmed, adding that the Rohingya issue is still not being discussed on a mainstream level.

There is now concern that in a couple of weeks the Rohingya plight would be forgotten. “This people didn’t come from nowhere – their struggle has been in existence since 1962,” said Ahmed.

They have always been part of the Burmese community and Rohingya people have serving in government as elected members of parliament since the advent of the military junta in 1962. However, when the dictatorship began the general in charge was very adamant on pushing tone identity – the Burmese identity and anything that was outside of that realm was recognised as alien.

Burma made up of hundreds of ethnic communities there were recognised during democratic times, but once the dictatorship came into power only 135 communities were recognised.

“It’s the same apartheid we saw in South Africa but in South Africa the world shunned the authorities for their treatment of the black people,” said Ahmed. “And now we are seeing the same thing happening in Burma but the world is accepting it.” VOC (Faatimah Hendricks)

This article was originally published here.

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